Warning: culture fail

How do you know when an organization’s culture is breaking down? When you start to hear its leaders utter some of these phrases:

  • “The CEO owns culture” – Sure, s/he is pivotal in setting direction and tone. But culture and values existed before the current CEO arrived and will linger long after s/he moves on. Every day, employees add to (or subtract from) their organization’s cultural DNA. Culture is the product of everyone’s behavior up, down and across the organization, year-after-year, and it needs to managed with this in mind.
  • “Our values are sacrosanct” – To which a chorus of employees retorts… “Oh really? Then what about (name), the top producer who we keep promoting in spite of his massive integrity issues? And how about the huge fines we paid last year for FCPA and SEC violations?” Companies must create cultures where behaviors consistently match promises. Say must equal do.
  • “Diversity is a big priority here” – To which the same chorus asks… “So why are there just two women on our board and only one person of color on the senior management team? And why do we ostracize some of our brightest and most loyal people just because they raise questions we all have?” Research shows that organizations with diverse employees and a culture of healthy dissent outperform more homogenous organizations.
  • “We don’t have competition” – This organization is in denial. From the customer perspective, there are always others who can provide effective solutions. And every business competes with inertia – the customer’s right to ignore your product/service. A culture of complacency hastens a company’s demise.
  • “No one does what we do” – This phrase is often paired with “like we do it.” Others do what you do, and some are busy figuring out how to do it faster/better/cheaper. You need to do the same. See above.
  • “Our track record of growth validates our approach” – Past performance never ensures future success. If companies aren’t looking beyond the horizon, then they are missing opportunities and risking competitive advantage. A culture of continuous innovation ensures competitiveness in a dynamic, fast-changing market.

Culture shapes outcomes, each and every day. Culture deserves the same attention – if not more – that’s given to strategy, competitive analysis, and other disciplines.


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