Defining Your Culture

Imagine that you take over a team, department, maybe even a whole company, and as you look around at how things are done and how people are treated you decide that the culture isn’t what you want it to be. That doesn’t mean the current culture is bad, just that it doesn’t – from your view – fit the needs of the company going forward.

How do you change it?

It often starts with the mission statement, but that can at best be only a start. It’s too vague, too lofty to define the culture. At some point you have to decide which values (behaviors) you want, and whether you’re willing to live up to them.

Imagine that you believe in work/life balance and want that for your team. What do you do when an incident happens while your key person is on vacation, do you call them? What do you do when someone needs to leave early for a parent teacher meeting and you need them at the office that day? Or the person who is working 50 hours a week to clean up a long standing mess on their own, do you force them to work less?

Not only do you have to think those through before you can decree it’s now part of the culture, but you have to be able to explain what you mean to your team. Your team has heard most of it before and will tend to be mildly pessimistic followed by a “we will see” approach. Every single time one of these little scenarios come up they will look to see if you’re walking the walk. Miss one and you’re done.

That’s right, a single bad call,maybe even a good and fair call from a business perspective can destroy the good you’ve done and sabotage your culture. If that seems like a lot of pressure…it is.

It’s one of the reasons I think it’s simpler and safer (and less powerful) to build the culture through action than decree,because it reverses the equation. Every time you take the time to right a wrong, to pull someone back from working too much over time, even when you are willing to call it a day at 5 pm when the world seems like it’s on fire – you win, and you build the culture.

It’s a hard game to win. It’s the game worth winning.