Organizational culture is a set of common systems, beliefs, values, and assumptions that shape behaviors and performance.
Leaders have an incredible opportunity to influence organizational culture and dynamics. This strong influence in forming, reinforcing, and changing organizational culture is undeniable.
Even so, there are disadvantages to how we have understood organizational culture to date.
Understanding leadership as an act of placemaking can help us reimagine how we see our roles within–and influence on–culture within our organizations.
So, what is the benefit in moving our orientation from organizational culture to placemaking?
To unpack this, let’s start with defining placemaking.
Placemaking is a borrowed term best known from the urban planning and development field.
It refers to the human engagement of transforming places in physical space and assigning meaning to them.
Placemaking relates to how we collectively form and reinvent space for a particular community. It connects to how community members interact and engage with one another and their environment.
In urban planning, this can take the shape of beautification projects, which transform ordinary spaces into community places of beauty, utility, and value.
There is a strong benefit into bringing the concept of placemaking into organizational leadership.
Culture is often perceived as monolithic: something that is greater than us and especially challenging to move or change.
Thus, leaders can feel daunted by the idea of changing organizational culture. It can leave them to feel helpless and overwhelmed.
This is particularly problematic if they are still navigating the “ins and outs” of the culture themselves. In this respect, culture is frequently viewed as something that is a third-person entity (e.g., “it” is a toxic culture).
Alternatively, by framing leadership as placemaking, it moves culture from being third-person (it) to first person (I).
It helps us better understand the power of our roles as leaders to shape organizational culture. It also places personal responsibility on leaders to help create healthy, supportive, and comfortable work environment for our employees.
In this framework, leaders have ownership over their contributions to constructing a sense of place. By having ownership, changing culture becomes more attainable for leaders, as change comes directly from them.
Lastly, place is more valuable when the entire community is involved.
Framing followership as placemaking is also important, relevant, and meaningful.
Staff members should understand their roles in forming the collective culture. Placemaking helps to reorient good employee citizenship as the responsibility of the employees themselves.
As leaders, I encourage you to reframe organizational culture change to placemaking.
Take responsibility for your role and influence and work towards developing a supportive work environment.
Invite your team and staff members to do the same. Empower them to have a shared responsibility in making the workplace a positive place to work.