Having an organizational culture is easy; you actually don’t have to do anything.
It’s like having a garden. You can allow nothing to happen and you will actually grow things in your garden – but among them will be weeds that are difficult to root out and that choke the naturally occurring good plants that want to thrive.
Creating a solid, good, thriving culture takes work. It’s not “set it and forget it”, nor is it something you just talk about when others are looking then neglect when other “more important things” need attention.
Great culture is a living organism that manifests in your people. Like all living organisms, it needs certain activities to create it, grow it, and mature it. If any of these are withheld, or given just token attention, the organism called culture can wither away and die out.
Here are 5 key actions that will keep your culture growing, alive, and thriving:
In other words, be it. Culture has to take root in someone in the organization, and that responsibility rests on leaders. If your culture does not become part of your DNA – what you do/say/think and who you are – then it will not take on the deep roots that will grow under the surface, nourish, and support the entire organization’s livelihood. As most people look to their leaders for behavioral cues, culture is the most vital leadership trait to personify.
Culture can be starved by toxic personalities and hidden agendas that choke out the good growth that’s working to see light. Leaders who give time to promote culture and speak to it constantly will breathe life into their people by recognizing what is key for a mature organization. In addition, recognizing what personifies your culture will direct more attention to those positive behaviors you want to manifest. If anything, starve the toxic behaviors by not letting them rob you of time spent feeding the culture champions.
A mother bear’s main job is to protect her cubs from any potential – real or perceived – harm. As a leader, your role is to protect your workplace culture. Being diligent and jealous for it, not allowing even one person to threaten it no matter what results they bring to the table, is vital whether your culture is fledgling or fully mature.
One person being a culture champion can make a big difference. Two champions can be a game changer in your organization. And four can bring an enormous impact to the entire company. Duplication of your culture is like the process of mitosis. If the conditions are right, a single bacteria can grow to more than 10 billion in over 10 hours. Growing your culture should be at least as important as growing new locations, sales, or market share.
Tend To It
Let’s face it, even healthy organisms can become unhealthy. People get sick and need surgery to remove cancer and antibiotics to treat infections. Even with the best diets, illnesses happen. In a well-led, purposeful culture, there needs to be regular check ups and diagnoses to ensure everything stays healthy. Identify what maladies might be plaguing your team and apply the right remedy to allow you culture to continue uninhibited.
Growing and mature cultures tend to be stronger and root out the weeds faster than they did before, but these actions should never be let up. It’s similar to checking on your home garden after a week-long vacation only to see that bugs and weeds have moved in. Just because your garden was treated before you left does not mean the work is ever done.
As mentioned before, culture is not a “set it and forget it” program or saying. It needs constant attention with the right actions that will promote a healthy and thriving organism. Feeding, nurturing, growing, and tending to a great culture can only happen when you identify your role as caretaker and representative of everything its about.
More From Paul LaRue
Paul LaRue is the creator of The UPwards Leader and Instigator for Lead Change Group. His background in senior leadership, strategic planning, culture change, and people and organizational development gives him unique insight into the workings of successful organizations. Paul has given speeches and training sessions for many public and private entities and stresses the virtue of a culture that centers around core values and character in leadership.