What’s the difference between organisation culture and climate?

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It is always difficult to distinguish between organisation culture and climate, without getting drawn into heavy theoretical or abstract analysis; they are intangible features of organisation life and as such can be hard to put into simple terms. However, they are vital concepts forall of us to understand so it is important that you have some handle one each of them

Culture might be described as the foundation upon which any organisation is built. It develops over the longer term and consists of the values – stated and implicit- beliefs, norms and traditions which guide how the organisation does its business and in turn how people behave. In simple terms, culture could be described as the personality of the organisation and, often, the culture of a particular enterprise can be traced back to those personal values held by the founder, or it is a reflection of the senior management in the business.

Although, it is somewhat intangible, culture has a significant role in influencing all aspects of life within the organisation and indeed how it interacts with the outside world; think how different the culture might be in a brokerage firm on Wall Street from that pervading within a charitable organisation. Consider too the various places you may have worked in your career; they all likely had a uniqueness about them and this is a manifestation of its culture. In certain jobs you probably felt very comfortable working there, in others you might not have felt the same affinity with the organisation.

Climate, on the other hand, could be described as something more surface level and relates to the here and now; it is about what it feels like to work in the organisation. If culture is the personality, then climate has more to do with the mood or prevailing atmosphere within the business. The climate is prone to more short term fluctuations and is determined by many factors which include leadership, structure, rewards and recognition.

Understanding the basic differences between culture and climate is practically helpful for you as a leader as it should help you to recognise that changing culture is a significant challenge, and may be out of your hands, depending upon your seniority, but you can greatly influence the climate within your team by how you lead them. This has to do specifically with your overall leadership style but also in how you design or improve work practices, recognise and reward performance and how conflict is handled.

Enjoy your day!

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