What’s a Culture Code?

August 5, 2021 Maddie Grant

Many organizations have their core values, credo, customer pledge or other representation of their culture written down. These documents (in whatever form they appear, usually like a slide deck or handbook) are fundamentally what we call the Culture Code.  In our PROPEL language, however, we want to get more specific about what a Culture Code should be, particularly if you are in the enviable position of being able to craft one using your WorkXO Culture Assessment data and the Culture Priorities work you’ve done so far, if you’re a PROPEL client.

A few simple rules for Creating a Culture Code.

We believe a really good culture code follows these rules:

  • It is a SHAREABLE artifact. It’s a document, or slide deck, or image, or any other format you choose that is easily shareable internally, and for many organizations, also shareable externally.  Will it be something people have stuck on their cubicle wall? Something people can easily refer to online? A song employees sing before every all staff meeting? A page on your website? Whatever it looks like, it must be easy to share.
  • It must apply to EVERY INDIVIDUAL in the organization. It represents universal truths about the organization that different people may experience differently, but are still true no matter where you sit.
  • It describes the forest, not the weeds. It can be long or short (we’ll discuss examples) but the shorter and more memorable the Culture Code is, the better it can fulfill the first two rules above.
  • It specifies behaviors. Our Culture Code is not a basic core value poster stuck on the wall that has no connection to how people actually work there. It defines the behavior(s) that are expected.
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What’s the difference between the Culture Code and Culture Priorities?

We give our clients a Culture Priorities 101 document with this definition: “A “culture priority” is a clear and concise list of principles—backed up by more specific, behavior-based descriptions—that make it absolutely clear what is truly valued in your culture, and why that is valued.” Sounds pretty much like what should be in a culture code, right?

YES – except that the Culture Priorities are literally the time-based, most important “priorities” you want to focus on today. Your Culture Priorities will and should change as you move forward with the plays you are developing that fix or reinforce those priorities. The Culture Code, on the other hand, is foundational and unchanging (at least for the foreseeable future). It should incorporate some or all of your existing Culture Priorities as you’ve written them up, but it will also include some or all of the building blocks that need preserving and protecting, from your original culture assessment data. It’s more all-encompassing, more foundational, and more universal (for you).

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Wait, what? How do we start crafting our Culture Code?

This blog post is an excerpt from a PROPEL client document used to help with creating a Culture Code. Want to read the rest? Contact us to learn more!



Photo by Arthur Mazi

Maddie Grant

Maddie Grant, CAE, is an expert culture designer and digital strategist who focuses on helping organizations unlock the power in their culture and navigate culture change. She has specific expertise in digital transformation and generational differences in the workplace. She has explored the language of workplace culture for several years through her books, co-authored with her partner in business and life Jamie Notter, including Humanize: How People-Centric Organizations Succeed in a Social World (2011), the Amazon category best-seller When Millennials Take Over: Preparing for the Ridiculously Optimistic Future of Business (2015) and the Non-Obvious Guide to Employee Engagement (2019).
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