In Change, Leaders

“Corporate culture doesn’t happen by accident – and if it does, you’re taking a risk.” – Monique Winston

It’s always interesting to ask leaders about the businesses they lead. I always ask what the leaders think is the real strength of their business, the thing that really drives their success. People answer that question in lots of different ways, but the one answer that seems to come up more than any other is “our culture”.

Leaders like to talk about their great culture, how passionate everybody is, how engaged they are, how people really do like coming to work, etc. I’ve almost never had a leader tell me that their culture is terrible, that nobody cares about their jobs, that people can’t stand being there every day, and so on. Unfortunately, there is often a pretty big gap between what the leaders perceive as company culture, and what everybody else thinks it is.

There is no debate that no matter how fantastic your vision is, or how great your strategy, or how incredible your product or service, if your culture is a mess the whole thing will bog down. Everything will be a struggle. It will feel like you’re always underachieving, like your business as a whole is less than the sum of its parts.

Why take something that important for granted? Why just assume your culture is great? If you know how important it is, why wouldn’t you actively work on it? Yet so many leaders spend almost no time trying to better their company’s culture. They give it lip service, and then go on to something else.

Don’t be culturally lazy as a leader. Yes, all those other pieces of the business are important and they do require your attention. But if the culture is wrong, it will mess up all those other pieces. And culture doesn’t get right by hoping or wishing. It’s something that requires constant work, every day, every conversation, every interaction, every decision.

What does your culture really look like? Do you actually know? How much time do you actually spend working on culture? Are you trying to drive it, or are you just letting it happen and hoping for the best? If you do the latter, good luck – you’ll need it.

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Showing 2 comments
  • Stacie Dykstra

    I would be interested in some of your thoughts/ideas on how to “test” your culture. Any suggestions on methods that business owners can use to find out more intelligence on their culture rating?

    • Matt Heemstra

      For one thing, ask. For another, communicate constantly. For another, always assume that your culture needs work, because it always does. It’s not something you fix once and you’re done. Talk about it, demonstrate it, talk about it some more. Observe what goes on in your business. See what kinds of issues you’re dealing with on a regular basis. Acknowledge when you make mistakes. Celebrate successes. Always be vigilant and aware that the work on culture never ends.

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