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Culture is a verb. You are what you do

By Galen Emanuele

December 1, 2023

Galen EmanueleThe ultimate case of actions speak louder than words. Culture is not what you say you are — it’s what you do.

Culture is how people treat each other inside your organization. It’s how people show up for each other and how they approach their work together. It’s the ground rules of engagement for your people. Many companies have a list of corporate values like trust, integrity, respect, excellence, teamwork, etc. Values are well-meaning but the truth is whatever takes place inside your company in terms of behaviors is your culture.

For example, if you have silos between departments and an “us vs. them” mentality at play across teams, that is part of your culture. If people gossip and badmouth one another, are resistant to change or are afraid to give their managers honest feedback — then those things are all part of your culture. And it’s not all bad: if people show up to meetings on time and prepared, if employees are highly accountable, if folks honor internal deadlines, if they speak about and treat each other with respect — that is also your culture. Good, bad or otherwise — culture is how people show up inside your organization.

The reality is that you might have many different cultures inside your organization depending on how many employees and teams you have. Different locations, teams, and departments all offer a different experience to the members of those respective cultures. This is why when leaders are thinking about or doing any work around improving culture, it is vital to create one that is clearly defined. In order to establish a culture that everyone is accountable to, that is consistent and scalable, it has to be clear. A lack of clarity about what you mean when you say culture, and what the behavioral ground rules look like, is a surefire way to have drastically different cultures across the organization.

Some questions to ask yourself to assess the culture at your workplace are:

  • How do we teach people how to be here?
  • Do new employees just learn through observation?
  • Are there clearly defined behaviors that employees are accountable for?
  • Do those behaviors address vital topics like feedback, change, conflict, accountability, gossip, etc.?

Most people only learn culture through observation, but you can be more intentional about this as a team by having clearly defined expectations that articulate from day one what it takes to be successful at your company.

If you aren’t already having conversations like this, this is a great prompt to get together as a leadership team or organization to get clear about your culture.

  • What are the ground rules that define what exceptional looks like? How do you teach people how to show up together?
  • What are we holding people accountable to?
  • What does it take to be successful at your company?

A clearly defined culture will yield a more cohesive, intentional environment across teams, locations and the entire organization. It’s nearly impossible to be committed or consistent about something that you’re not clear about.

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