Culture Vs. Climate

What comes to mind when you hear the word “Culture?” The word nerd in me wants to go directly to the dictionary to find a definition. The online dictionary that comes up when you type “culture” into the Google search bar gives these definitions: 1. the arts and other manifestations of intellectual achievement regarded collectively, 2. the customs, arts, social institutions, and achievements of a particular nation, people, or other group, and 3. the way of life for an entire society including codes of manners, dress, language, religion, rituals, and art.

Another thing that comes to my mind when I hear the word “culture” is the times my family and I have visited other countries. When you get outside the US, you see how differently people live in other places. Language, customs, food, smells are all different. And for the people living there, they are normal. We, the visitors, are the ones who are different.

You can also experience different cultures simply by visiting different parts of this country. Speaking of country, rural areas and urban areas have different cultures, don’t they? We’ve lived in nine states, some more than once. We’ve lived in NC, MI, IN, IL, MN, NE, CO, AZ, and CA. That spans the country from Southeast to Midwest, to Southwest, to West Coast. In some parts of the country you “mash” a button. In other parts you “hit” it or “press” it. In some parts of the country, a Coke can be an orange soda (or pop), and in some parts, things that are “gross” are “ishy.” You get the idea. I’m sure you have a lot of other examples, too.

Business Culture

I have a friend who owns a consulting firm called “Cultural Finesse.” He is from the U.K. and has lived and worked in 15 or so different countries from Europe to Africa to Asia to the Middle East. Now that guy knows a thing or two about different cultures! He started his firm to help U.S. based companies better understand how to work with companies from other countries and cultures. That is still a big part of his business but he has also realized how different the culture can be from one U.S. company to another, and even from one department within a company to another. So he helps with that, too. Check out his website for more information.

If you boil it down, culture is simply “how we do things around here.” Whether it’s a country, a people group, a region, a company, a department, or even a family, that description applies. Culture provides the foundation for the atmosphere (or climate) in which people operate together. Culture is more consistent and deeply rooted. Climate, on the other hand, can change quickly. When I was growing up n Michigan they used to say, “If you don’t like the weather around here, wait 15 minutes. It will change.” Most business climates don’t change every 15 minutes but they do change more readily than cultures.

Business Climate

The climate of an organization is founded on the culture but whether you have stormy weather or clear blue skies depends on the leadership. Climate can change as often as leadership changes. John Maxwell, one of my mentors, says, “Everything rises and falls on leadership.” That’s partly because leaders set the climate of the team or organization.

Stormy climates are teams that lack direction, are confused, don’t get along with each other, lack motivation, and get little to nothing done. Where does that come from? The leader. S/he is most likely not communicating clearly to provide direction and parameters, not helping the team catch the vision for what they’re trying to accomplish, and not exhibiting and promoting accountability.

The leader who is doing those things creates a climate that is clear blue skies (CAVU in aviation terms, Ceiling And Visibility Unrestricted). How “clear communication” happens is a matter of culture. That it happens is a matter of climate. The same thing is true for parameters, vision, and accountability. The how is culture, the that is climate … leadership.

If you’d like to learn more about the How (culture) of different organizations, check out my friend Graeme Cooper at Cultural Finesse. If you’d like to learn how to create a clear skies climate in your team or organization, drop the word “How?” in the comments. I’ll send you a pdf called “How To Create a Clear-Skies Climate On Your Team.”

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