Intentional Culture – What is Yours?

business culture valuesI was giving a talk the other day at S.U.R.F Incubator in Seattle for startups and got an interesting question – what the heck is “intentional culture?” I asked several follow-up questions about the questioner’s background. He was on his third start-up. The other two had gone well, but he had never given any thought to “culture.” He assumed, as many of us do, that his values and views were shared by all and that was the culture of his organization. He said he had one rule – that when developing, if someone ran into a roadblock or made a mistake, it had to be identified immediately, and if not, that person was fired. So I probed a little more. He believed that projects are a collaborative effort, and those who did not want to collaborate should not work there, and no one should be afraid to speak up and ask for help or admit a mistake. He said that turnover was approximately 50%.

What I was able to point out to him is that he had a very intentional culture, however, it didn’t seem like he necessarily hired for this culture, nor communicated about it in any regular way.  The consequence is that people were “surprised” when they got sacked because they were unaware of the rule or unstated guidelines for behavior. He wondered if his belief was too harsh or wrong. (When it comes to culture, there are not too many rights or wrongs – it just is what it is). The most important thing is that it should be a reflection of what you as the entrepreneur and leader believe – what your values are and what you want your company to become for optimum performance. You will not agree with the values and culture of every organization, and it’s not important that you do. It’s only important that you define your organization’s values and culture and communicate it effectively.

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. When values are unstated then the culture is unintentional. (From Putting Together the Entrepreneurial Puzzle – Chapter 2 Intentional Culture).

This month you will have access to a free download of Chapter 2 of Putting Together the Entrepreneurial Puzzle for the next 30 days on my website. I would encourage you to use it to examine the culture of your company and see if you really understand “what” it is. See if your values are actually being lived and if your policies and procedures are a reflection of those values. What are the three words that you think describe your culture? Now ask some of your employees what they think they are. Kudos to you if they are the same, however watch their body language when they answer. Did you see enthusiasm? Or a “yea, well, here is what we say, but not what we do” kind of look or reply. The reason culture is so important towards a company’s success is that everything else flows from this and gets easier or harder as a result.  If you are having difficulty implementing a new strategy or initiative, go backwards. Take a look and see if there is cultural misalignment of some type that is causing it to fail, or perhaps the initiative is out of alignment, therefore your culture is resisting it.

You may have to make some personnel changes if things are off track. If someone strongly believes something that is counter to your values and culture, they will act as a resistor, (unconsciously or consciously), and will ensure failure until you address the issue.

All the information you need to ascertain if your culture, and therefore values, are on track is always on display. You just need to look around and observe. The key is to make sure it’s your intentional culture, not what happened while you weren’t looking.