Culture Happens

Whether it is formalized or not, all organizations possess some type of culture that helps to define what the organization is all about. Your culture affects employee turnover, productivity, employee engagement and customer service.

a group of cooworkers put ll their hands into the center as a show of teamwork

We often hear people talk about how to create the right kind of culture. But, I believe you don’t “create” a culture – culture happens. It’s the by-product of your or your leadership’s consistent behavior and attitude.

You don’t create a garden. You cultivate it. You provide things that will help the vegetables grow like good soil, water and fertilizer. You eliminate the things that can harm it, such as weeds and insects. And over time, the garden grows and vegetables begin to sprout.

Culture is like that – you create the right (or wrong) environment and you cultivate it. Over time, it evolves.

Your role is to create an environment where the right kinds of things happen. This is accomplished by rewarding the right things and weeding out the wrong things. You can’t make it by decree. You can’t impose it. You can just cultivate it.

So, how do you cultivate a positive culture? Here are a few points to get you started.

Create a values blueprint

Ann Rhoades, author of the book “Built on Values,” coined the term values blueprint.

Like a house blueprint sets the framework and instructions for what you’re building, the values blueprint establishes the foundation and instructions for building a culture based on specific values. Develop a set of values and value-based behaviors that everyone in your organization can embrace. Define behavioral descriptions for each, and make sure everyone understands these.

Integrate the values into all operating practices

Include how you make decisions, as well as how people are hired, rewarded, promoted and fired. Essentially everything you do should be grounded in the values. Review these annually and make them part of your planning. At its most fundamental, the values blueprint is a branding or rebranding effort.

Hire the right people

One of the most important things you can do to create and sustain a values-centric culture, is to develop a system for recruiting and hiring “A” players who mirror your values.

Get rid of the wrong people

Whatever the culture you desire, it can be compromised by the wrong people.


Communicate your values and talk about what’s going well and what isn’t. Be sure to create an environment where people feel they can speak freely. And be sure to LISTEN -great cultures grow around people who listen.

Celebrate differences

Great cultures are built on diversity of background, experience and interests. These differences generate energy, which is critical to any enterprise. Help people see the value in diversity.

Recognize heroes

Recognize those who live the values and walk the walk. Look for those who are outside your organization who embody your values and hold them up as models.

Tell stories

Stories tell us about what is important to the organization. They help us to put a reality on the ideals and show us how to implement them. They strengthen and support the right behaviors.

Implement rites and rituals

These include meetings, reviews, coffee breaks, clothing, parties and all the ways you interact or celebrate events. These rites help to bond people together and provide some sense of collective identity.

Look at the environment

What hangs on the walls, sits on desks, or otherwise takes up space in your common areas? Does it support the culture and the values? Use your space to promote the values you want to embody.

For more information on how to lead your organization toward the right culture, contact me at

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