In Change, Leaders

“If you do not develop your corporate culture it will develop itself.” – Monique Winston

Last week in this space the idea was that if you’re unhappy with things that are going on in your business, then as a leader it’s your responsibility to do something. Complaining solves nothing. Either accept reality as is and move on, or make changes.

Someone responded by asking about culture generally, and that if it’s really the leader’s “fault” that things are the way they are, what should the leader do about it? Which is a great question. It’s easy to say in theory that changes should be made. The trick is figuring out what exactly to do.

So here are some random thoughts…

First, begin with the end in mind. People say they want to have a great culture. What exactly do they mean? What does a great culture look like to you? Sometimes the idea of having a great culture is so theoretical that it’s impossible to work towards having it because you don’t really know what it is. I think one of the most important things is what your culture isn’t. What will you absolutely not tolerate in your business? From your people? From yourself? You have to know where you want to go culturally to have any chance of getting there.

It starts with you. You can’t proclaim to everyone that you want this and that culturally from the organization while you personally go off and do things that are completely to the contrary. How do you act? How do you speak? Unfortunately, self-awareness isn’t always easy. Most of us need help. So who is your help? Who is there to tell you when you’ve gone off the rails? Your organizational culture will never be better than the leader’s personal behavior, so if you’re the problem, there is no solution other than you changing.

Lastly, people have to know it matters. Your behavior and speech might be completely perfect, but if you don’t communicate to everyone how important culture is, and if you allow people to behave in a way that doesn’t fit the culture you want, it will still be a struggle. Talk about culture. Make sure everyone in the organization, from top to bottom, understands what you want and what won’t be tolerated. Don’t just assume your exemplary behavior is enough. It’s the start, but it’s only the start.

Don’t assume your culture is what you want it to be. If you don’t think you have work to do on culture, then you’re really in trouble. It’s an ongoing struggle, and you have to always be vigilant. Your business will have a culture. It’s up to you to decide what that will be.

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Showing 2 comments
  • Mark Ellsworth

    I often hear leaders say that their culture is “family-friendly” or “lifestyle supportive.” Make sure everyone knows what that means. If you don’t make it clear up front, you’ll have to make it clear when the stakes are higher.

    • Matt Heemstra

      Amen. That’s true about any and all core values a business has. All those words we use to describe core values (“family-friendly” or “integrity” or whatever) mean different things to different people. Make sure you’re all on the same page. Thanks, Mark.

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