Surface and Hidden Cultures

dreamstime_xs_79148620I met a woman recently who works with companies to change their cultures.  It was an interesting conversation and it prompted me to think about company cultures that I have experienced.

One in particular comes to mind.  It was a skilled nursing facility with a very high turnover in the nursing department.  The turnover didn’t make sense because the facility was positioned well in the area related to pay and benefits.  Other departments in the facility did not have the same problem.  I don’t remember whether the administrator finally investigated the situation closer or if it was a new administrator, but the result was that although the nursing staff complained about being short-staffed and having to work overtime, in reality, they liked the extra pay.  To keep the overtime pay, they were driving away new employees.

In looking back on this situation, I realized that companies might have surface cultures and hidden cultures.  Of course, it can be argued that whatever is happening reflects the true culture.  But for the purpose of discussion, let’s use the terms surface culture, what it appears to be on the surface, and hidden culture, what it really is.

In the skilled nursing facility mentioned previously, one department, on the surface, appeared to share the culture the rest of the facility had with not wanting to be short-staffed and in making new employees feel welcome.  In reality, the department had a hidden culture that drove employees away.  On the surface, they talked the talk of wanting more employees.  Underneath, they didn’t and undermined attempts to retain, and maybe even attract, new employees.

What is the surface culture of your organization?  Are there any hidden cultures in your organization?  If you are not achieving the results you want in your company, is this worth investigating?

This same concept can be used in our personal situations as well.  Are there hidden cultures in your immediate or extended family?  Is the surface culture one of support but the hidden culture one of sabotage?