“Culture eats strategy for breakfast.” This quote from Peter Drucker has surfaced multiple times over the course of the One Year, Thirty Minute Challenge. The best strategies and tactics are dead on arrival when they’re unleashed into a company with a toxic culture. This week, we’re focusing on culture for the third time in the series. During the course of a consulting engagement, I’m occasionally asked if I have a list of cultural imperatives, that is, attitudes, approaches to work and actions that should absolutely be baked into the DNA of the organization. I do and we’ve already talked about two of them in earlier One Year, Thirty Minute Challenges – Mentor Mindset in week 4 and Lifelong Learning in week 16.
Here’s my complete list –
- Vulnerability – The willingness to be transparent, admit weakness, and ask for help when we need it, is the shortcut to building trust inside the organization. Trust is the currency we spend with one another as we build an effective team.
- Confront the Brutal Facts – Jim Collins reminds us that accurately assessing ourselves, our team, our products and services, our operations, our financial situation, and our competitive environment is mandatory. No rose-colored glasses allowed.
- Sacrifice of Sacred Cows – No idea, no product, no service, no “that’s the way we’ve always done it” is out of bounds. Cling tight to core values. Nothing else escapes scrutiny.
- Team First – When making decisions, the good of the organization comes first. Self-serving, self-promoting and personal advantage have no place in the organization. That must apply from the business owner down to the most recent entry-level hire.
- Learning Orientation – The minute we think we know it all is the minute the countdown clock to the death of the organization begins. The organization will never grow beyond those who lead it, so we must continue to improve and learn – personally and professionally.
- Mentor Mindset – Every team member is there for the good of the other team members. Owners and managers are committed to staff development, teaching not just the “what” but also the “why”.
- Bias for Action – Doing is better than thinking or talking. Dive for the ball when a teammate drops it. If you promise to do something, do it.
- Over-communication – Information is lubrication for the wheels of the organization. Tell what you know, quickly and completely. If owners want employees to make the same decisions they would make, employees need access to the same information the owners have.
Later in the One Year, Thirty Minute Challenge at least one of these will merit their own thirty-minute exercise, but that’s not the goal of this week’s exercise.
Let’s jump in.
This week, I want you create your own list of cultural imperatives – those attitudes, approaches to work, actions, and commitments to one another that must be present in your organization. Every organization is different, so your cultural imperatives will be different – but if they truly are imperative – i.e. you must have them baked into your corporate DNA or the organization will fail in living out its mission, reaching its vision and living up to its core values – you must identify them, live them out, talk about them, train on them and drive them deeper into the fabric of the organization.
One note before you begin – let’s quickly talk about how core values differ from culture. Core values are the shared, intrinsic beliefs of those in the organization. It might be a love for small business owners, a passion for camping, a desire to make learning available to those who previously did not have it or a commitment to treat client resources (money, house, car) as if they were your own. Someone who didn’t share those beliefs would continually find themselves uncomfortable in the organization. Everyone else would be rowing in harmony with the values and the outlier would feel like they were being dragged along.
Culture is how we live inside the organization. After we’ve been admitted by virtue of our shared values, culture is the mashup of our attitudes, approach to work, commitment to one another, commitment to customers and commitment to the ideals and health of the organization.
So, pull out your pen and notepad or open Evernote and begin. I’m giving you five questions as thought starters for identifying your cultural imperatives. Underneath each question, I’ve included some statements. Some are positive, some are negative, and others are neutral. I’m not asking if they apply in your organization. I’m tossing out examples of attitudes and actions that might be indicative of company culture. I’m wanting you to identify the cultural must-haves you want and possibly identify some current attitudes and behaviors you should jettison.
- What are the non-optional behaviors in your organization?
- Show up on time
- Work hours are flexible as long as the work is done
- Arrive at meetings on time
- Always use all your vacation days
- Never use all your vacation days
- Work through lunch
- It’s ok to disagree with a superior in a meeting
- It’s never ok to disagree with a superior in a meeting
- Answer an email no matter what time it comes
- Only answer emails Monday through Friday
- What are the attitudes you display in your interactions with one another?
- There’s clearly a pecking order – the highest paid person’s opinion matters most
- We have a true meritocracy when it comes to opinions – the best idea wins the argument
- It’s ok to ask for help when I’m stuck
- Departmental in-fighting is the order of the day
- We work hard to work as a team – there’s no blaming – just solid cross-discipline problem solving
- We’re good with ambiguity – we know there’s plenty we don’t know and welcome new situations that challenge the status quo
- We’re committed to one another – my boss and coworkers have my back
- What is your approach to work?
- Good enough is good enough – if it’s not broke – don’t fix it
- We strive for excellence in everything and nothing less is acceptable
- We dive for the ball when someone drops it
- If someone screws up – it’s on them – they bear the consequences of their own mistake
- Good ideas can come from anywhere
- All the good ideas come from our creative people – that’s their job
- When we tackle a problem, we do our research – we want to know the truth even if it hurts – that the only way we can create great solutions
- What is your approach to customers?
- We take care of each customer like they’re the only one
- Some customers are unreasonable and if they leave it’s ok
- We’re always looking for new ways to serve existing customers and gain new customers – making our products and services better
- We want not only our products and services to be superior, we want the customer to have a great customer experience
- How do you view the organization?
- I’m just a small cog in the machinery – doing what I’m told
- I have a chance to leave my mark in the organization – my work matters
- There’s more going on here than just making money – we’re making life better for our customers
- All the company cares about is money
- The people who lead the organization fairly balance the interests of employees, customers and shareholders
- How do you communicate in the organization?
- There are lots of islands of information
- There are single points of failure in the organization – people, who alone, know specific information or how to do that job
- Information flows freely from the top of the organization down
- Information flows freely from the bottom of the organization up
- Some conversations are off limits
After you’ve worked through the questions and have your own personalized list of cultural imperatives, sleep on it for a day or two and review the list. What did you miss?
Then roll out your list to the leaders in your organization. Does it describe the kind of place they’d be proud to work? If so, why? If not, what needs to be tweaked and why?
The implementation merits its own One Year, Thirty Minute Challenge and that will come later, but knowing the kind of workplace you’re after is the right place to start.
Here’s a sneak peek on implementation. Once you have your culture described, how do you codify it? How do you live it out? How can the leaders in the organization model it? How can you recognize and reward it? How can you extinguish attitudes and behaviors that don’t fit? How can you reinforce it in one-on-one and group training? How can you reinforce it in day-to-day work interactions?