Mollie West and Kate McCoubrey Judson have published a wonderful blog post for the Huffington Post about how to strengthen organizational culture. They focus on the importance of establishing rituals that bring the organization's mission, purpose, and values to life. I've always believed in the value of such rituals. At universities, such rituals include ceremonies such as convocation and commencement, as well as alumni reunions, honor society inductions, and new student orientations. Of course, they also include many smaller rituals that are part of everyday life on campus. For us, these rituals reinforce our institutional values and remind us of the meaning and purpose of our work - to transform the lives of the young people who come here to learn and grow. West and Judson describe the importance of rituals in this excerpt from their article:
Companies practice rituals of all kinds—celebration rituals, eating rituals, storytelling rituals. Why are they important? Rituals engage people around the things that matter most to an organization, instilling a sense of shared purpose and experience. They spark behaviors that make the work and the company more successful.
Rituals can be powerful drivers of culture, so they should be thoughtfully designed and nurtured. This starts with setting an intention. What is the organization’s unique purpose and set of values? What mindset and behaviors will help people deliver on those? A great ritual will reinforce that mindset and those behaviors in a way that feels authentic to the organization and its people. What works at one company, might feel totally foreign somewhere else.
It’s also important to think about what will make a ritual stick. Why will people want to participate? Can it start organically and catch on, or will people look to certain leaders to model it first? Designing a ritual that will sustain over time requires tuning in to the organization’s existing culture, beliefs, and behaviors.