Why Your Culture Sucks

Why Your Culture Sucks

Why Your Culture Sucks

If you haven't heard that "Culture eats strategy for breakfast," you may have been living under a rock (or under your desk) for the last year. So, yeah, everyone knows that organization culture really matters. But what makes it so key? And what can you do about it?

Working with senior executives of early-stage and mid-sized companies, I have a lot of conversations with leaders about the culture of their organization, and whether it's "good." We talk about how behaviors shape culture, how culture in turn shapes everyone’s behavior, how it reflects the real values of an organization (whether we like it or not), and how every process and practice in the company is either reinforcing or diverting from the desired culture. And then we talk about how theirs isn’t quite what they wish it were.

Most of our conversations include these four elements:

  • Who gets celebrated and promoted in your company? Who doesn’t? What stories do you tell that illustrate the stuff that drives success? What goes unnoticed? What bad behaviors do you tolerate because someone is a superstar, and what does that say about your core values? This defines the culture. (Not free food and meditation pods.)
  • Have you and your employees talked about how the culture helps people accomplish your organizational priorities? What about how it blocks their effectiveness, and the company's success? These are your boosters and barriers.
  • What do you do and say every day that shows everyone else how they should behave? Do you know the affect your behavior has on your employees? What about the rest of your leadership team? These are what shapes your culture.
  • How do you keep yourself honest about this? How do you show that you’re open to feedback (most people think they are)? How often do others offer you feedback on how it feels to work with you? Do you ask for this information? If they tell you, do you hear them or do you explain why you acted as you did? This is how you own your part.

Your culture probably doesn’t suck, but if it does, even a little, it’s probably because:

  • You don’t know your (real) culture
  • Your culture isn’t boosting the right stuff
  • Your leaders don’t live it out loud
  • You’re not owning your part

And … if the shoe fits … when you’re pushing for execution, you may be trashing your culture instead of harnessing its power, and everyone knows that. (Thanks, Pam!)

What really matters about culture is that it gives the ‘rules of the road’ that accelerate your organization’s success. It should clearly reflect the values you “pay a price” to live by. It should give everyone in the company easy shorthand for knowing how to belong, how to work together, how to treat customers and colleagues, and how to achieve shared priorities. And it should just as easily let everyone know what’s not acceptable, so people can self-select in or out.

If you’re thinking that some things about your culture suck, let me suggest something you can try right now. Figure out where you can start to make a difference, whether it’s owning up to your part (are you taking credit for someone else’s work), or getting real about what your culture actually is (who got that last bonus or promotion, and would you wish for dozens more just like them?).

Your company’s culture is evolving whether you’re paying attention to it or not. A little intention can go a long way toward providing the boost you need!