Culture is How Things Get Done

Culture. You hear this word a lot, especially now. But what is culture?

If I had to define it in simplest terms, it would be this: “Culture is how things get done in your organization.” 

The standards. The values of that organization. Different organizations have different values and standards, so by nature things get done differently. 

You can take a mix of people — you can even have great people — and if that culture is not defined, if it is not aligned, talent alone won’t mean the organization is going to be successful. 

Culture is how you bring it all together. How do we take great people and then in this system that we have, how are we all going to operate? What value set do we all share? What standards do we all align upon?

Imagine you are looking at two organizations. Let’s say one has a so-called poor culture, another one has a great culture. They’ll have two completely different outputs, even with the exact same types of people. 

If you think about some of the most elite teams in sports — the ones that win championships — they have what people believe are the best cultures. What they’re really saying is on those teams, everybody’s rolling in the same direction. Everybody’s on the same page. They’re all united by a common vision and the things that they want to achieve. There’s not this misalignment where there’s friction on the way to achieving that vision.

But in organizations where the culture is poor or on losing teams, they often play the blame game. There’s gossip. There are all these things that add drag to a business and prevent you from achieving the things that you want to achieve. It’s because of the culture on those teams.

When you’re really thinking about it, what is the identity of your organization?

As a leader, you really have to realize that you are 100% in charge of your culture. If you don’t like what the culture is, it’s either because you’ve created that culture or you’ve allowed that culture and you haven’t reinforced the standard. 

Everybody says they want to be world-class, but what does it take to truly be world-class? It’s not just saying we’re going to be a world-class team or world class organization. It’s what actually happens. What happens when you’re not? What happens when a standard is not met? What happens when a value is not aligned upon? Are you making decisions based on that? Is it possible to succeed leading your organization and fail to meet values and standards? Because if so, perhaps those values and standards aren’t really the values and standards if someone can operate below that.

If you see something that’s off-culture and do nothing, then that becomes the new culture. 

That’s very important to realize. As a leader, if you’re allowing something off-culture, ask yourself whether you are the one who created it. You picked the people, right? You hired the people on your team, so if there’s somebody in the organization that’s not a cultural fit or somebody who is cancerous and doesn’t align with values and you allow that to continue, then you are by nature creating that culture. 

You set the value. You set the standards. You decide whether or not you reinforce them.

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