I was accepted a while ago to be published as a blogger for Oregon Business Magazine...here is my latest entry!
Culture: What yours is and how it affects your business
I recently listened a podcast by Andy Stanley on the topic of culture, and it hit home in a lot of ways.
Not only did it prompt me to write this article, but it has prompted my business to make some positive
changes recently and going forward. His podcast was titled “The 5 Inescapable Truths About Culture”
and he is right on in regards to all five truths. These truths are can be found in every business or
organization, and they are undeniable and inescapable.
Culture says simply “this is how we do things here”. It is infectious but incredibly hard to measure. And
leaders love things that we can measure! We like numbers, reports and charts. We love reporting to
the boss how much of an improvement we had in the last quarter. However, leaders have a hard time
working on the culture of their organization. It feels like we are moving backwards when we address the
culture of our organization, doesn’t it? We wonder, Why can’t employees show up on time? Why don’t
people just do the right thing? Here is what Stanley has to say about all of this.
The first inescapable truth is that leaders shape the organizational culture whether they intend to or
not. No one has more impact on the culture of a business than the leader. The buy in comes from the
top down. We, as leaders, often forget that. Mostly we think about the stuff we can count or measure.
However, we have much more influence than we think we do. And a major temptation that we can fall
in to is that once we are in a space for a long time, we either adapt to the culture around us or continue
to shape it. If we look around our business and say “this is not something I like”, then we need to look
in the mirror. However, if we look around and like what we see, then we need to discover what Stanley
refers to as the “driving force” behind those good things. Then we need to protect them, nurture them
and don’t let anything get in the way of them being changed.
It is an enormous temptation for leaders to sit back and say, Wow things are great and I’m not changing
anything! But we need to discover why things are great and not just accept the fact that they are great.
We need to discover how to further cultivate a healthy culture and not be comfortable with it. If you
don’t know what these good things are, then it is possible that you might make changes that could
disrupt something that is inherently good and potentially destroy a good thing. So you can see the
importance of finding out the really healthy things you have going on in your business culture and act on
The second truth in all business cultures is that “time in erodes awareness of”. It is pretty simple: the
fresher we are in an organization the more we see. The longer we are in a place the less aware we
become of the small things, the culture, the people, and of what’s going on around us. We need to
build in to the rhythm of our business ways to discover things that are unhealthy, and ways to discover
the driving force of things that are healthy. Does that mean interviewing every new hire after 90 days?
Does that mean randomly polling employees on the way things are at work? I don’t know what it means
for your business, but I know we all need to do something to have safeguards in place that uproot
unhealthy practices or make healthy cultures come to the surface and stick.
The third truth that Stanley talks about is the fact that healthy cultures attract and keep healthy
people. Healthy people have a very low tolerance for unhealthy people; likewise unhealthy people are
attracted to unhealthy environments. This is psychology 101. Unhealthy people aren’t happy in healthy
organizations because nobody puts up with their gossip, drama, bad attitudes or their poor work ethic.
At the same time healthy people will leave a company if they are always walking around on eggshells,
avoiding the elephant in the room, etc. They simply won’t put up with it. A healthy culture attracts and
maintains great people. There won’t be “sideways energy”, where a lot of activity is going on with no
Speaking of productivity, the fourth inescapable truth is that the culture of an organization impacts
long term productivity. They are joined at the hip. Culture is tied to accessibility of information,
transparency, unfiltered debate and communication. Lack of those things are a “bottleneck for
productivity”, says Stanley. If you are not afraid to communicate, be transparent and are not scared of
unfiltered debate then you probably have a good foundation for a healthy culture. Employees become
less territorial and less focused on themselves, which will ultimately lead to better productivity. They
will collaborate more and bosses will no longer have to be worried about what’s going on “underneath”
them. Suspicion is now replaced with trust and productivity will increase exponentially.
The fifth truth about culture is that unhealthy cultures are slow to adapt to change. We all know this.
Unhealthy cultures are usually so focused on what’s happening inside the walls that their backs end up
against it. They are more concerned about what’s happening in the cube next to them, what the boss
said to that person and such that they lose focus of the marketplace. We can’t afford this. We can’t
afford to have a culture that resists change. We’ll be out of business before long! This makes it all the
more difficult for a company to transform from an unhealthy culture to a healthy one. The change is
worth it though. It impacts who you get, who you keep, and what kind of productivity they bring, which
in the long run directly affects the bottom line.
Your culture: what is it? What is it harvesting? What good things is it producing? Do you need to take a
look at making some serious changes? From someone who’s business is making a change, trust me.