Culture Drives Everything

Two recent engagements – one with a larger client, the second with a prospective client – reminds me how essential it is for senior leaders to understand workplace culture without oversimplifying it. It’s a message echoed in a great post by Culture University’s Tim Kuppler at Switch & Shift:

The #1 workplace culture challenge is convincing your CEO or top leader that some aspect of culture requires their personal attention. How is culture impacting performance? Why should they care? Why is culture at the root of some of their most difficult challenges? Why they should and must DO SOMETHING.
— Tim Kuppler

Kuppler continues that the why question must addressed first, that senior leadership has understand with clarity and some depth why workplace culture is an issue in the organization. A rushed job on the why is going to equal a rushed job on the how – as in how we will work to address workplace culture gaps.

In the case of our larger client, it was inspiring how quickly the leadership sifted through the noise of data and landed on culture as a presenting problem. More inspiring? Their collective willingness to “linger” on the data, to spend time trying to understand what they wanted to solve – and why.

In the case of our prospective client, it was differently inspiring to see them slowly raise their eyes up from the day-to-day business challenges – job descriptions, policies, compliance issues – and chew on the issue of culture. This was a new conversation to these folks, but one they were willing to have.

And it very much is a case of will. Culture is hard. It can be vague and nebulous. It feels soft and unmeasurable.

But as Kuppler, and so many others, argue, workplace culture is not just the glue – it is the fuel that creates effective combustion for organizations.

  • A healthy culture drives performance. In fact, a healthy team climate can return as much as 24¢ on the dollar, according to our friends at the Hay Group.

  • Great cultures – think Amazon or Zappos (or if you live in the past, Ukrop’s) – create legendary customer service, and loyalty.

  • Strong organizational culture swallows silos, and breaks down walls between departments and work groups.

  • A healthy workplace culture attracts great talent, defends against bad behavior, aligns people around strategies and change, and reduces negative employee feedback. 

The will to invest in developing a healthy workplace culture is hard to cultivate. Taking a walk around your organization with an eye on culture – where it is adding energy, and where it is taking energy away – may help your leadership visualize the why more clearly.