Culture Never Sleeps

IBM attained its greatest success – and displayed its greatest ability to adapt to a changing world – during the same era that it displayed its strongest cult-like culture

-Jim Collins, Built to Last

Here’s an important piece of truth that we all need to agree on: everyone organization has a culture. Culture is like your personal health, it can be a lot of things but it has to be something and it’s always affecting you. You can’t have an absence of health. You can have bad health, good health, odd health, or young health, but you’ve got something and you can’t escape it. Likewise, your organization has culture. Your culture can be a lot of things, but you’ve got one. This brings us to a critical question on the subject: are you being intentional about your culture, or ignoring it?

If we accept the fact that every team, organization, business, and group has some sort of culture than we are forced with the decision to address or ignore it. There is no middle ground. You can’t just claim, “we don’t have one”. Of course you have one, and it’s even bigger than that. Culture has a massive affect on your organization. Right now as you read this, no matter what time it is or what is going on, your culture is having affect on the way your organization runs. It’s affecting the decisions people make and the actions (or lack there of) that they take. Right now your people are deciding if they should stay late, come in early, call in sick, “steal” a pencil, report unethical behavior, and even turn in their resignation. Like it or not, you don’t get the luxury of just not having a culture. You’ve got one, so you might as well make it work for you!

The first step is in this process is identifying the culture you have. This is difficult work. Often you’ll find that people “just know” what the culture is. It’s important to go further and define it. It’s important to understand it so you can understand what it’s doing for you or how it might be working against you. Secondly, you need to analyze culture against the values you want to have as an organization and against that the mission and vision you have set forth. Is your culture helping you achieve your mission, or could it possibly be working against you? How could it more effectively work for you?

Finally, consider assigning some sort of Chief Culture Officer. Now in some organizations this may be as big a job as it sounds, but in many small and medium sized organizations it’s not. You just need to find someone that is both excited about the future direction and is steeped in your “way of doing things”. Someone that understands your organization and understands people. Allow this person to have input into change, transition, and goal setting. This is the voice of culture around the conference table. Mind you, this person is not the “keeper of what is”, but a forward thinking and progressive person.

Remember, not matter how you choose to approach culture, the important thing is that you have one. Every group of people has a culture not matter the size. We have a responsibility as leaders to identify it and understand what it’s doing. Is it hurting you or helping you? How can you make culture work for you more effectively? The great thing about culture is it’s always working everywhere. It never sleeps. Make is work for you and you’ll leverage a powerful leadership tool.

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One thought on “Culture Never Sleeps

  1. John Wenger says:

    I like this Micah. I had a strong experience of my own culture when I went to live in another country. It was only when I was living in a culture different to my own that my awareness of what my own culture is began to wake up. When I’m working in organisations, I like to talk about what is in the air that everyone breathes and in the water that everyone drinks. It’s not noticed because it’s just there. In order to become intentional about it, we need to actually wake up to it, which is hard. As they say, the last thing the fish notices is the water.

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