Back to Main Blog

The Many Faces of Culture

by Clark Vitulli | Posted on January 12, 2018

The Many Faces of Culture

By: Clark Vitulli

“Culture eats strategy for breakfast”
Peter Drucker, Management Consultant

There seems to be no shortage of articles preaching the importance of company culture, and rightly so given the huge impact it has on the success of a business. But seldom does a piece cross my desk that foregoes the generic and well-worn “culture matters” talking points in favor of exploring the multi-faceted realities of workplace culture that lie below the surface.

Too much focus on the shiny policies adopted by well-known companies like Google and Netflix have left many confused that culture equates to luxurious offerings like a state-of-the-art work environment and unlimited vacation time. While these kinds of employee benefits certainly affect culture, the policies themselves are actually a manifestation of a broader corporate culture. That is, there are larger cultural forces at play behind the scenes that influence every decision a company makes. Today we’ll briefly take a look behind the veil at some of these cultural forces.

Culture of Change

“If it ain’t broke, break it!”
-Robert J. Kriegel, Business author and speaker

Change is inevitable, and everything changes. We can embrace change and view it as an opportunity to learn and grow. Or we can fear change and view it as an inconvenience. Whichever the case, change still exists. As we nurture and fertilize a rose plant, teach a puppy some new tricks, raise a child to adulthood or develop a management team to become more effective and efficient, change is required.

In the world of business, the adaptive organizations that can pivot when necessary are the ones that succeed. I was discussing change with one of my clients during a coaching session when he said his company has never changed since its inception – over 90 years ago! The more we talked, though, the more it became obvious that his company had, in fact, changed. The industry and core value proposition stayed the same, but the way his business operated went through several changes. Being open to change, not merely for the sake of change but for the goal of staying relevant, is how companies can avoid falling behind and keep ahead of the curve.

To help ignite that spark of change, the best leaders I’ve witnessed ask their direct reports on a regular basis (at least quarterly), “In the spirit of continuous improvement, what do you think we need to START doing, STOP doing and/or CHANGE the way we’re doing something around here?” And beyond just the direct reports, at least semi-annually, the boots-on-the-ground level of co-workers need to be asked the same questions. This simple exercise, done best in person and by leaders, is that catalyst for relevant change used by the highest-performing organizations. Try it.

Be on the lookout for a future article that more closely examines how a culture of change affects organizations.

Culture of Growth

“When you stop growing you start dying”
-William S. Burroughs, American author and writer

Growth and change may seem one and the same, after all, growth inherently requires change, but change can be a lateral move while growth means a move forward. Growth is expansion: more employees, a bigger building, higher sales, and maybe a more sophisticated view of your company and its role going forward.

Many of the business owners and executives I coach are afraid of growth and not without good reason. They’ve seen peers inadvertently grow otherwise successful organizations into oblivion – rocket ships soaring high with promise only to come plummeting back down to earth.

But growth is still necessary, so the question is how do we grow the right way? How can the CEOs and senior leadership team establish a culture of growth that burns long and steady without fizzling out just as quickly as it started?

That’s the $64,000 question. For me, it was the $200,000,000 question. Stay tuned to read how I helped create a culture of growth to lead my company from scratch to almost $200M.

Culture of Accountability

”Accountability is the measure of a leader’s height”
-Jeffrey Benjamin, Corporate speaker and trainer

To remove accountability is to guarantee failure. Whatever we’re aspiring to achieve in life, we all must be held accountable to someone or something if we want to succeed. And this applies just as much on an organizational level as anywhere else.

Mike Scott of Totally Accountable, rated as a top business speaker by over 22,000 Vistage Worldwide members, has presented to my local Nashville Vistage group several times on accountability (and he’s coming to speak three more times in 2018 – don’t miss it!). Mike outlines four core values that are essential for building accountability:

  1. Zero tolerance for non-accountability
  2. Totally clear, understood and accepted communication
  3. Consistent tracking of work to successful completion
  4. Allow no surprises of non-accountability

If you’d like to see an example of those four accountability values in practice, then check out my real life accountability lesson I’ll be posting here soon.

Culture Fit

“When hiring employees, culture and fit are far more important than skills. You can teach skills. You can’t teach talent or enthusiasm or compassion.”
-Lori Becker, Editor in Chief of the Nashville Business Journal

Perhaps the biggest cultural influence of all comes down to the hiring process. From top-level management to entry-level staff, every single employee contributes in some way to the overall culture. That’s why who and how you hire is one of the most important business decisions you can ever make. Will this candidate enhance or detract from the company’s cultural values? There’s no in-between.

But even perfectly-matched employees still need help to remain a good fit with the company. American Campus Communities (NYSE: ACC) makes a habit of recognizing and rewarding employees who exhibit the organization’s core values, which further reinforces the right kind of behaviors that fit within the culture. Keeping employees aligned with company culture takes more than just posting core values in every hallway; culture must be actively recognized, supported and reinforced in daily life.

Be sure to read my upcoming must-do hiring and on-boarding tips to make sure you’re getting the right employees that fit your organization.

Did something stand out to you or get you thinking? If so, reach-out, share your thoughts in a comment below or give me a call to bounce ideas around. I love hearing from my readers and followers!