The Origin of Culture: Is your culture reactive or proactive?

May 23, 2016 Blog, Monday Morning Wake Up Tips

“It’s how we do things around here.” Ever heard your employer utter this phrase? That sentiment, when explored, reveals the visible yet oftentimes unspoken values, norms and behaviors that become the natural way of doing things in a company – in other words, the company culture.

The definition of culture suggests that it just “happens” without much intentionality, and most often it does. However, most cultures arise as a direct result of the values, beliefs and behaviors of the leader or leaders. When leaders aren’t aware of this process, they can lead a company culture down a dangerous path.

All too often, when a business is in start-up mode, the owners form a company in reaction to their prior business experiences. Bill, a former consultant for a top accounting firm, leaves because the firm is too hierarchical and the trek to partnership is too political. In his new firm, he brings on talented people and immediately makes them partners. When the partners are not covering their share of work or expenses, he becomes resentful. Two female physicians leave a mostly male-dominated practice to create a practice where women doctors can work part time and raise a family. The practice is thriving today, yet it has been difficult to integrate male physicians who want full-time employment.

What does your company’s culture say about you and what’s important to you? Did you create a company in reaction to your past experiences – or with a set of beliefs and values that support your current success?

Managing your company’s culture requires a bit of detective work. Begin by observing how you do business, what your beliefs and values are and what behaviors you do that support them. Ask your employees why they do things a certain way. Be open to hearing what they have to say. Don’t try to justify, discount or correct them; merely listen. Once you’ve collected your data, ask yourself, “Is this the kind of company I want to lead? Or is it time to change how we do things around here?” If a change is in order, it’s time to roll up your sleeves, communicate the change, and be the change you expect from others.

By Theresa Gale,
PRINCIPAL, TRANSFORM, INC.