Zombie Culture

When I speak on delegating I often make the comment that leaders shouldn’t be doing anything that someone who works for them could be doing. Leaders should only be doing the things that only they can do. If they are doing something that someone else could do then they aren’t doing something that only they can do. 

Of all the things that only a leader can do perhaps none is more important than developing and nurturing the culture of their organization. 

Despite the significance of culture within an organization many leaders overlook the strategic importance of intentionally cultivating the “feel” of their organization. They know on some level that culture matters so they may talk about it’s importance. But they virtually never show it’s importance. 

Talking about culture without backing up the talk with actions is almost worse than not talking about it at all. It can make a leader seem clueless about what’s happening in their own organization. All talk and no action makes it hard to tell if the leader is trying to fool their people or if they are trying to fool themselves. 

Creating a valuable culture within an organization requires a laser focused intentionality. A culture worth having doesn’t happen by accident. It grows out of a positive vision for the future.  A vision where people matter most. 

Authentic Leaders know that the surest way to grow their business is to care about their people. You may be able to fool some of the people into thinking you care about them for a while but sooner or later they will figure out you don’t. 

When your people figure out that you really don’t care about them they won’t care much about investing themselves in the organization either. 

Authentic Leaders know that they cannot talk their organizations into a healthy, growing and caring organization. They must lead the organization to a strong and productive culture. That leadership means showing people that they are valued always. That leadership means demonstrating, showing, even proving, that they are cared for above everything else. 

Even profits.

There are consulting companies today who seem to operate on the premise of “take care of the bottom line and everything else will take care of itself.” They are dead wrong. Emphasis on the “dead” because they are slowing killing the organizations they are supposed to be helping. 

As much as the business world has changed over time there remains one constant truth. That truth is this: take care of your people and they will take great care of the bottom line. 

No, not ever, not even once was there a company that was able to sustain itself with a culture of “profit before people.” 

Culture that is not fed a consistent diet of deeply caring leadership, two-way communication, valuing people of all ages and backgrounds, and fully transparent decision making will NOT die. It will turn onto a culture of disengagement. It turns into a culture of people doing their jobs with the minimum amount of effort required to keep those jobs.

It turns into a zombie culture. 

So if you’re the person at the top of the organizational chart I have a question for you. How many days has it been since you made focused, intentional steps towards building a culture of caring and growth within your organization? How many days had it been since your people realized you took that intentional step?

If the answer to either question is more than a day then your culture is heading in the wrong direction. Only the person at the very top of the organization can change that direction, that task cannot be delegated. 

Don’t try to delegate what only you can do. Work today and each day to build the culture you want to have in your organization….or not. It’s your choice and it’s likely the most important leadership choice you’ll ever make.

Does Your Company Have Culture?

The answer to that question is an absolute yes. Your company most certainly has a culture. That makes the next few questions even more important if you’re at the top of your company’s organizational chart. 

 

Are you able to describe, with a high level of specificity what your company culture is? Are you the person creating, driving and nurturing that culture or did your culture develop by default? And maybe most important, can the people in your organization, at all levels, accurately describe the culture of the organization you lead?

 

A CEO or top leader in an organization can delegate many tasks but designing and fostering the organization’s culture is not one of them. Culture is driven from the top, the very top, down. Top leaders who understand that have the opportunity to create a culture that becomes a competitive advantage. It also attracts top talent to their organization.

 

Peter Drucker has been credited with saying “Culture eats strategy for breakfast.” This phrase doesn’t appear in any of his 39 books so some people claim the quote is not his but it certainly sounds like him. Regardless of who said it first the fact remains it is 100% correct. 

 

Organizations that spend tons on strategy while allowing culture to develop on it’s own greatly limit their potential success. 

 

Despite the importance of culture, research shows few organizations do more than pay lip service to it. While culture is reported to be one of the top three priorities for businesses only 20% of top leaders report investing any time to develop it. This after 62% of them also reported they were primarily responsible for their organization’s culture.

 

When asked when was the last time they had conducted an internal or external audit of their organization’s culture the vast majority answered never. Most relied on sources like employee feedback or surveys, customer surveys and risk events such as rule breaches, human resources issues and the monitoring of compliance.

 

If you’re a leader at the very top of your organization you must realize that you can’t simply let culture happen. Your culture needs to be intentional, focused, live-able and meaningful. 

 

As John O’Brien co-author on The Power of Purpose says: “Culture eats strategy for breakfast but culture gets its appetite from purpose.”

 

If your culture doesn’t have a purpose and you can’t clearly state exactly what that purpose is then you are likely offering your culture a very unappealing menu. Developing an organization’s culture in not a “time expense” it is a “time investment.” If you’re in the 80% of top leaders not making that investment today then you need to begin now. 


Carve some time out of your strategy sessions and use it to develop what matters even more. That would be your culture!