Intentional Culture

intentional cultureWhy does culture matter? Whether it’s intentional or not, every company has a culture. You can walk through the door and feel it almost the instant you step in. What does the lobby look like? What’s on the walls? Is it warm or cool? Clean or shabby? Quiet or loud? How are you greeted? Even if you don’t think you have a clearly defined culture in your company, you do. You may not be able to describe it, but I’ll bet others can and do, to your competitors as well as to your potential customers.

Culture is the daily demonstration of a company’s values. Culture can be the manifestation of stated values (intentional), or the unstated but nonetheless real values that some or all of the employees share, but that are unstated (unintentional). As we discussed in the last chapter, spending a lot of time on your Intentional Purpose (values, mission, and vision) will be a waste unless that truly translates into the lived culture of your organization. Make sure they match: Culture = Lived Values.

The risk of not being intentional about your company’s culture was illustrated to me by an encounter I had with Peter Schutz of Porsche, when he came to speak to one of my TEC CEO groups about getting extraordinary results out of ordinary people. (The Executive Committee is now Vistage International.) The meeting was held at a member’s company, a software firm. As we were waiting for everyone to arrive, Peter approached me and said, “Come here, I want to show you something.” We walked down the hall and he pointed out several offices. They were messy and chaotic, with lots of personal items on display. He asked me if I thought this company had trouble sticking to plans and meeting deadlines. My answer was an emphatic “Yes!” And, in fact, those were the biggest challenges the company faced. Those offices belonged to developers who were allowed enormous flexibility in their work schedules but were not held accountable when they didn’t meet deadlines.

The owner of this company is a brilliant thinker, inventor, and idea person. He didn’t purposely set out to create a chaotic culture; it just happened as a result of his experimental personal style. While not fatal, this unintentional culture hampered his company’s growth. The business was making it because they had a product no one else had, but they had plateaued at $5 million in revenue because the owner, and consequently his team, kept reinventing the product. Because they didn’t have a culture of reasonable limits and accountability, the product was never good enough, and they continued to tinker until some clients grew frustrated and went elsewhere. Ultimately, the culture of unaccountability kept the company stuck, continuously repeating the same mistakes.

Unintended culture also presents significant problems with employees. First, without an intentional culture, it’s hard to accurately identify why someone should work for you. You’re left hiring based on skills alone, and skills by themselves don’t speak to whether or not a person will fit in and manifest your company’s values. An additional risk is that some of your employees will set the culture for you, and it’s rarely your best employees who will do that. These people are like bullies on the playground: if the playground monitor isn’t watching, they’ll set the rules and tone that everyone has to play by. A third drawback is that, in the absence of intentional culture as a unifying force, employees will head in different directions, accomplishing their own tasks in their own ways. This lack of cohesion in the team ultimately leads to lack of results.

Have you really thought about your company’s culture? Cultural confusion is more common than you might think, and a little examination should tell you if your company’s culture is preventing you from attaining the success you’d like to have. Even though some aspects or departments of your company might have a pretty defined set of values and therefore a culture, it’s essential that your entire company understand and live the same culture. No facet of your company can fully achieve its goals without the entire company adhering to the same culture. Nor can your company achieve its overall vision without everyone upholding that culture. Take a look at how your company functions: lack of communication, lack of follow through, misunderstandings, unmet deadlines, and low morale are all symptoms of a dysfunctional culture.

Excerpted from my book, “Putting Together the Entrepreneurial Puzzle: The Ten Pieces Every Business Needs to Succeed.” Available here on Amazon.