Don’t Lose Track of This

There are many different types of assets that appear on the balance sheet of a business. Perhaps the most important asset however does not.

That asset is the organization’s culture. 

Culture can develop within an organization all by itself. It has a life of its own. It’s kind of like a wild dog. It’s a dog but you don’t want it as a pet.

A healthy organizational culture does not develop all by itself. It requires a constant effort by the organization’s top leader. Responsibility for an organization’s culture cannot be delegated. The top leader can enlist other leaders in the organization to assist with the development of the culture but they can’t turn the steering wheel over to anyone else. 

That’s because culture drives every other process. It drives innovation. It drives engagement. It drives the organization’s attitude. It is the soul of the organization. 

Productive, positive culture does not come from the top leader saying their organization has great culture. In fact, if you’re constantly having to remind the people in your organization of it’s great culture then it’s highly likely that it isn’t all that great. 

Truly excellent culture comes from the top leader showing that they care for their people. It helps if other leaders in the organization model a caring attitude as well but culture development begins at the top.

Sadly it often ends there too. 

Culture is developed in those brief hallway interactions. It grows into a productive force during those quick office “pop-ins” to “see how it’s going.” Every word and every action of the top leader and their leadership team either add to or subtract from the value of the culture. Every word and every action! 

Which brings us to a challenge of our unique times. I’ve never fired up Teams or Zoom on my computer and seen someone walking in the hall I could check in with. Most of those spontaneous interactions are on hold, at least for a while longer. The most effective culture building tool, face-to-face, personal, off the cuff conversations do not happen virtually. 

But they could. And they should.

Don’t lose track of the importance of continuous culture building because the halls of your building might be mostly empty. Pick up the phone. Start a spontaneous Zoom call. Make a FaceTime call on the spur of the moment. 

No agenda, no objective. Just one human connecting with another. 

I can only imagine the trepidation of an entry level employee receiving a call from their organization’s top leader. For many the first thought might not be good. But I can also easily imagine their chest swelling with pride when they realize the call is solely focused on them and their well-being. They know without a doubt that they matter. Their company and leader care about them as a person.

It makes no difference what size your company is, when the person at the top cares then the company cares. Do you care enough for your people to invest a few minutes a day to show it? If you do then you will. 

You want productive culture in challenging times? Then don’t wait for it to happen…go make it happen. Be intentional, be consistent and be caring. 

If you’re at the top of your organization’s leadership team then lead your organization to the culture you need for long-term success. It can happen by accident but you won’t like the result. Don’t let an accident happen, make culture your top priority every day and your organization will be at the top every day too.

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!


The Essential Ingredient for Success in Business

There are many ingredients required to grow a successful business. Many of those ingredients can be, and in fact are, provided by leaders at every level of the organization. 

 

But there is one ingredient, the one essential ingredient, that can come only from the leader at the very top. That ingredient is organizational culture. 

 

Leaders at the top must never fool themselves that the culture is developed “near” the top, or that it comes from the majority of the leaders. It does not. It comes from the very top and that’s the only place it comes from. 

 

If you’re a leader at the top of an organization then it is you who determines the overall health of the culture in that organization. You set the tone, you model what acceptable culture looks like and what it sounds like. 

 

You can’t do that by telling people what healthy culture looks like, you must show them. If your words don’t match your actions you can be sure that your people will follow your actions and not your words. They will do what you do light years before they will do what you say. 

 

The culture within any organization is merely a reflection of the top leader. 

 

Stop for a while today, a long while perhaps, and ask yourself what kind of culture you’re modeling for your people. Are you providing an environment where it’s impossible to maintain a negative attitude? Are you nurturing a culture where caring for others is encouraged and even rewarded? Are you demonstrating a culture where recognition is freely given and feedback is actually sought? 

 

Do you display a culture where people are free to provide suggestions and point out weaknesses within the organization… without the fear of reprisals? Is your culture one that values loyalty and does that loyalty work both ways? Is your culture one of “spending on people” or “investing in people?” Is yours a culture that supports and promotes the same opportunities for everyone regardless of their appearance or personal preferences? 

 

If you’re a leader at the top of an organization you must be able to confidently answer those questions. If you can’t then your organization could be lacking the essential ingredient for long-term success. 

 

That’s on you! You cannot shift responsibility for a healthy organizational culture in your organization. The moment you accept that fact is the moment the culture in your organization has a chance to improve.


Organizational culture is the only sustainable competitive advantage that top leaders completely control. If you’re not controlling that then what the heck do you think you are controlling?