A definition of culture that I like is from Jim Collins, author of Good To Great, Built to Last, and numerous other books and articles … Culture is a combination of core values, core purpose, combined with the BHAG, or Big Hairy Audacious Goal, which is a very aggressive stretch goal set for a long timeframe. Another is what people are saying about their company to others, including customers. Culture is either intentional by active design and promotion, alive in the organization and cause for continued operations, or it is unintentional and largely ignored by passive default.
Most companies have two cultures. The first is the one reflected by your view of the world as a CEO. It is written on your website, and discussed in your annual retreat. It is a corporate worldview that may be shared by your Senior Leadership Team. However you have a big problem if that view of culture is not shared by the majority of employees in your company, who are actively supporting Culture #2.
- Developed at the annual strategy retreat by the senior team a number of years ago.
- Mission, Vision, and Core Values written on a sign on the conference room wall.
- Posted on the website, and sometimes on the back of business cards.
- Descriptive words are similar to Integrity, Quality, Innovation, Responsive, Customer Focused.
- Listed on certain company documents, like an employment intake form, to be signed after reading indicating the new employee has read and understands the mission and vision statements, and agrees with the core values shown on the conference room wall.
- Not frequently communicated, or clearly understood or remembered by anyone in the company
- A somewhat cloudy vision of culture the leader believes exists in the company.
- Something that is separate from day to day operations.
- Not used as a strategic differentiator, recruiting tool, or weapon with which to dominate markets.
- Informal, default, risk averse, and protective of the status quo.
- Alive in the organization at levels below the senior team.
- Unwritten, but clearly understood by all employees, at levels below the senior team.
- Accepting of triangulation, where it’s ok for folks to talk about others when they are not present.
- Completely different than the words used by the leaders to describe it.
- Protective of the group, who desires a paycheck for time spent working each day.
- Promotes job security, and a strategy that says ‘Don’t rock the boat’.
- Confused by efforts of leadership to enforce Culture #1, which few if any understand.
- Could be a blend between #1 and #2
- Could be something entirely new and different, but clearly understood, adopted, and promoted by all employees.
- Should be used as a competitive advantage in recruiting talent and acquiring customers.
With culture #1, you will have difficulty scaling your business, and will be stuck and frustrated each day working ‘in’ the business instead of ‘on’ it. And employees will not have the same view of culture that you as the leader and your Senior Team have if you do not consistently and frequently communicate the core values and core purpose, and BHAG of your company to others.
If your company’s culture looks like culture #1, then you are not consistently and frequently communicating the purpose and core values, and your goals. The generic words you have written on the conference room wall have no viability and are basically useless. In fact, having two cultures takes a lot of energy to manage, drains the organization of creativity and innovation, and creates tension. It definitely hurts your credibility as a CEO.
If this resonates with you, it is a problem… your problem. You created it, and you need to fix it. Your big job is to create a new culture, one we’ll call Culture #3. Culture #3 could be a bridge between what you would like to have as a culture, your ideal state, and what actually exists within your firm.
My guess is that if you don't do something about it, your company will be challenged to be relevant going forward.
I would like to hear your thoughts. Feel free to connect and we can discuss how to create a high performing culture you would be proud of.