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Your Company Culture is “Fun” – Really?

When asked to describe your company culture do you use one word answers? Words like “fun” or “great”? If so, you are making it abundantly clear that you are not putting much energy into creating a culture that is either fun or great. If that’s all you have to say about your culture, it may be fun for a few people, or great for the people at the top, but it’s not being developed, fostered, or vetted for everyone in your company.

In a recent article on listening I opened with a quote from Peter Drucker that says: “Culture eats Strategy for Breakfast.” While listening plays a key role in creating a positive culture, I thought I would take some time to dive deeper into this concept of culture.

To start out I want to emphasize that strategy is a super important part of running a business. Developing thoughtful organizational, programmatic, and operational strategies is key to ensuring that you, and everyone in your company, are actively working towards the vision or mission you have for your business. Spending an entire article on culture is in no way intended to diminish the importance of strategy.

But (you knew there was going to be a “but”, didn’t you?), today I’m going to focus on why culture is even more important than the best planned strategies. Any business with more than one or two people has a culture. A culture will evolve, whether you are paying attention to it or not. If you’re not paying attention to it, what evolves might not reflect your values or the type of company you want it to be leading. In this case your culture is likely holding you back and turning your strategies into pipe dreams.

What is Culture?

Before we go any further, let’s talk about what I mean when I say culture. The Balance Career website describes company culture as: the shared values, attributes, and characteristics of an organization. Culture can evolve organically, based on decisions and actions of team members. This is usually driven by the top leaders in the organization. When those top leaders are all on the same page with the values of the company, and those values align with the vision or mission, this type of culture development can be successful.

When top leaders do not all align with the values, the vision, or the mission; the culture that develops can be contradictory, confusing, or even toxic. The bigger a business becomes, the harder it is to “just wing it” when it comes to organizational culture. This is why I believe it’s important to put intentional thought and work into your culture.

The Value of a Strong Culture

A strong culture can do so much to benefit a company. And a weak one does just the opposite. Here are a few of the benefits you can expect from intentionally creating a strong culture that reflects your company’s values:

  • Team members know what is expected and how to behave

  • Your company attracts people who align with your values and who want to be part of a positive work environment

  • You will get the most out of your employees

  • Your company will grow faster and thrive when everyone is aligned, dedicated, and passionate about being involved with your organization

Sounds pretty good, right? And to be frank, it’s not that difficult. It requires just a few components and probably some crucial conversations.

Creating Your Culture

As stated before, strategy is important, culture is more important. You need to commit as much – or even more – time and thought energy on creating the culture you want; otherwise your strategies will not get you where you want to go.

Step 1: Decide that culture is important. If you don’t believe in the value of intentionally creating a culture, don’t do it. It is not something you can do by just “going through the motions”. It requires on-going commitment from the leadership of the company.

Step 2: Create a list of descriptors. Take a look at someone you would consider your “best” employee or team member. Write down all of the words you would use to describe that person and what they contribute to the company. If you have a few different people who fill this description, develop a list from all of their attributes. These are likely the values that reflect your company culture.

Step 3: Consider other elements that are important. How do you want people outside of your company to describe you as a business and an employer? What do you aspire to be? Are there values that are baked into your vision or mission? Even if the characteristics are not currently represented in your company, include them on your list.

Step 4: Narrow your list down. You can have as many values as you want, but I recommend 3 to 7 key words/phrases that will describe your culture. Less than three will lack depth. More than seven will be difficult to remember and use effectively. You can combine words or concepts that are similar to get your list to a manageable number.

Step 5: Build up the concepts. Take each value and expand upon it. For example, if one of your values is positivity, describe what that means within your organization. It may look like this: We support each other’s ideas and encourage trying new things. It can be short or long, find what is right for your organization.

Step 6: Talk about the values – all the time. The final component in the process ensures that this exercise leads to results. As the leader of your organization, every time you are in front of team members you need to talk about your values. Early on you might just recite them. As time goes on you can tell stories about the values in action. You will use them when addressing performance issues and when celebrating accomplishments. Refer to them. All. The. Time. You want to get to the point where these values and their descriptions become part of the language used by everyone in your company.

Going through the steps above is absolutely something that you can do on your own among your leadership team. They are simple steps, but they are not necessarily easy. An outside facilitator can bring value to the process. They can help make sure the loudest voice isn’t the only one considered. A facilitator will pull out things that the leadership team may gloss over or want to avoid. And outside support can hold the team accountable in order to drive real change.

Real Culture vs. Desired Culture

How do you know if you’re getting it right? You describe your culture as “fun”, and it really is fun! For you. How do you know when your values and desired culture are permeating your organization? You ask your employees. It seems to go without stating, but many companies miss (or avoid) this parallel component of organizational change. You can make it as simple as a paper survey or Survey Monkey. However, especially if there has been mistrust in the past, best practice is to use an outside organization. This encourages honesty when your staff know that their answers will remain anonymous. Dishonest answers are of no benefit.

The second – and very important – piece of surveying is to accept the feedback you receive. As a leader you need to be open to whatever you learn from the survey. You absolutely, 100% must acknowledge the good and the bad. Especially the bad. By both celebrating the progress you have made and acknowledging areas you still need to work on, you will demonstrate your commitment to your culture, and you will deepen trust with your team. Again, failing to take this step will do the opposite.

A little more on gathering feedback . . .

You may want to consider surveying your team before you start in on discussions about culture. Ask them how they describe their work environment to their friends. Ask them what keeps them committed to your company. Ask them what they think their future looks like with your organization. Ask what they would do if they were in charge to improve the business. If this is an anonymous survey, you will likely learn a lot. If you already know that your culture needs work, you can likely skip this step. There is no need to dwell on a broken system.

Another good time to survey is as you are developing the key values of your culture. You can ask for feedback on how the concepts resonate with your team. It’s important to emphasis that this is your “desired state”. This is where you want to get your company to. What sounds good to them? Note that they are not the ones creating the values and the culture, they are helping to inform your decision making.

Finally, surveying staff about 6-months after implementing organizational values and working on culture can tell you how effective your efforts have been. Have they noticed the change? How has change impacted them? What are their ideas for improvement? How has their commitment to the company changed? Best case scenario includes asking your team for feedback a minimum of once a year. Then follow that up by communicating what you learned, what is going well, and what you will commit to work on improving.

The next time you are asked about your organizational culture, I hope you can answer with more than one word. Even if that answer is: We have never focused on it before, but it is important and we are going to start working on on improving it.

If you would like help creating a culture that reflects your company values and drives growth, I would love to help! Email me at

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