In Action, Leaders

“It is better to be alone than in bad company.” – George Washington

Culture gets a lot of attention these days, and rightly so. For all the strategy & planning and great ideas we might have, if the culture of our organizations is no good then it will all amount to nothing. I’ve seen plenty of businesses that knew what they needed to do and had the resources to do it, but because of largely cultural reasons they failed miserably.

One thing many leaders struggle with is managing that culture. It isn’t that they don’t try. Almost every business these days talks about culture and the things that matter to them (core values, etc.). Most businesses have culture-related things posted all over, and without exception they say positive-sounding things.

But just announcing what you want your culture to be isn’t the end. You can stand up in front of a bunch of employees and tell them what the culture’s supposed to be and how great it’s going to be to work here. You can post stuff in the break room, or send out newsletters with all kinds of fantastic sounding stuff.

In the end though, your culture will be largely defined by what you, the leader, are willing to do. In other words, when somebody violates your cultural standard, or simply behaves in a way that causes problems, what do you do about it? You can say your organizational culture is about integrity and respect, but if somebody’s a liar and a jerk, do you address it?

Unfortunately, culture violations are unpleasant and sometimes uncomfortable to deal with, and many leaders just gloss over them. When you do that, what you’re telling your people is that bad behavior is OK. Our culture really doesn’t matter. We really don’t care about what it’s like to work here. Is that the message you want to spend?

The point is, you have to take action to protect your culture. There has to be some consequence for people not living up to the culture you’re trying to create. And that includes for you, the leader. You don’t get to define organizational culture and then violate it whenever you feel like it. Bad behavior must have consequences. If you’re not willing to address the behavior, at least stop talking about culture so you can avoid being a giant hypocrite.

Ask yourself, are we managing our culture? Are we trying to address cultural violations as they happen? Or is it all just a joke, just something we think we’re supposed to talk about but don’t actually take seriously? If you choose to do nothing, then you have only yourself to blame when culture drags you down.

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