I recently attended a convention and several business leaders approached me to ask for assistance, they said;

  • “My culture needs to be fixed, what can I/you do?”
  • “My boss asked me to introduce a culture initiative, what does that mean?”
  • “How do I know if I have a good or a bad culture?”
  • “Why does culture matter?”

All great questions, with no easy answers. I told them it would be presumptuous to offer specifics without context since I don’t know their culture from the “inside out”. However, I can offer insights!

You have a culture! It may not be what you want, but you have one! Culture evolves over time. It took time to get “where you are”, and it will take time to evolve from there. I wish there was “culture in a box” with a diagram and pieces that fit into round holes, but it doesn’t work like that!! There may not be a box, but there are pieces that you must consider.

Culture falls into two categories; intentional and accidental.

Intentional culture occurs when you methodically execute what you want to experience. It is transformative and motivates employees to “be and do their best”. Culture is not what your organization builds or delivers, it is “how” your organization builds and delivers. It is the personality that allows you to deliver.

Shifting culture involves an honest assessment of “who you are”, and the patience and understanding that it will take time to “get there”. The first step towards an intentional culture is defining where you want to go and developing clear and simple statements to  communicate the roadmap to employees. Examples of these culture statements might be:

  • We treat each other with respect.
  • We are service focused.
  • We are accountable.
  • We embrace diversity.
  • We have open communication.
  • We have integrity and do what we say we will do.

When reviewing these statements, the leader must ask the question; Do we exemplify these qualities? If you are getting a little “itchy around the collar”, great! An intentional culture requires looking in the organizational mirror to determine the gap between cultural reality and cultural desire. The gap points to accidental culture.

Accidental culture evolves over time based on misalignment, emotion, and lack of leadership. A “bad” culture may be indicative of an accidental culture and may be a response to:

  • Inappropriate comments in the workplace;
  • Lack of teamwork;
  • Interactions or communication regarding customers;
  • Responses to ideas to avoid risk;
  • Shutting people down;
  • Unclear expectations;
  • Not being honest or walking the talk.

For example, an organization outwardly says people are treated with respect and dignity, yet in reality bad behavior is tolerated and no change occurs. This indicates a cultural mismatch between its true and stated culture. This “accidental culture” can be changed only after it has been acknowledged, and when leaders become clear and intentional about shaping the culture. Organizations that fail to intentionally create their cultures end up with the consequences of an accidental culture and the accompanying dips in morale, productivity and trust.

So, how do you implement an intentional culture?

  1. Know what you Want -Identify your desired culture, vision, and values and weave into everything you do. Include culture statements in recruiting posting, job descriptions, handbooks, training, etc.
  2. Communicate – Tell your employees what your culture is. Don’t assume people will act accordingly, they will do what they “think is best” which may not be aligned with the culture in your organization.
  3. Train and Coach – Once you identify a gap as a result of accidental culture, you may need to retrain and clarify the new expectations and how to “get there”.. A service culture may require alternative problem solving and guidelines for employees to follow.
  4. Motivate – Make sure employees understand how the culture is exemplified in behaviors, and reward when those behaviors are exhibited.
  5. Walk the Talk– Ensure the leaders/managers embrace and model the desired behaviors. Employees follow  in the footsteps of their leader. Be open to feedback about managerial behavior and correct quickly.

Culture matters, it impacts your business, employee engagement and the bottom line. Remember, Culture is not a “to do” list, it is a “to be” list. tm