Company Culture: Setting the Tone

Business_MeetingThe basis for everything that happens in the work environment, good or bad, can be traced back to a single major factor – the company culture. The culture of a company is the sum total of the group behaviors within the organization. I have seen and lived in very positive and also negative company cultures, which has given me a very particular belief on the subject. Culture has also been a major topic within the coursework of my MBA program. There are several key lessons I have learned about creating and changing culture.

Like most everything else in life, starting with a clean slate is the easiest way to create a company culture. With no baggage, past practices or status quos, there is a unique ability to set the tone for what the culture will become following the startup phase. It is vitally important that specific decisions are made, early on, to determine what type of culture is desired and will be carried into the future. This topic could easily be pushed aside as not important, but like a mission statement or values, establishing the culture of a company is another crucial element for setting a strong foundation. As a leader, setting the tone by deliberately creating policies and practices that fall in line with the company’s mission will start down the desired path. These practices then need to become what is lived every day.

There are fewer opportunities to create a culture from scratch. It is more likely that a culture will be in need of change. This doesn’t mean that a culture was started off on the wrong foot, but it does mean that there is a desire to change current beliefs or practices. In order for this to happen successfully, and truly take hold, it must come from the top. A lead is entirely responsible for setting the tone and establishing any change in culture. It is very difficult for an entire organization to change without initial adoption from the man or woman in charge. And, it can’t be for show, only authentic adoption will lead to the desired results.

The most difficult cultural process is attempting to make a change the leader has not, or will not, adopt. This is, in my opinion, an effort in futility. Should you try to establish a, slightly, different culture in a department you oversee, then that is possible. The reason is because you are the leader and have the power and influence over those in the department. However, it cannot be radical enough to interfere with the culture established for the greater company. Even if using your department’s unique culture to find success, the company leadership must buy in for any other department to be able to mirror that success. The reason for this is coming up next.

Finally, the least effective means of changing culture is simply benchmarking, copying, another successful company’s practices and assuming the new culture will come as a result. By simply imitating the practices without understanding the underlying basis for how a culture started will lead to undesired outcomes. When United attempted to copy the success of Southwest Airline’s customer satisfaction and aircraft turnaround times, it wasn’t able to achieve the same outcomes. The reason? United’s efforts only copied was they were able to see on the outside, and weren’t able to copy Southwest’s heart and soul.

Culture is the basis of everything that happens in a company. It can’t be forced and any changes that happen can only come from those in charge. It has to be organic and connect to the values at the core of what a company is based upon. Anything less will fail to take hold and be brushed aside. This does not have to be the end-all-be-all, but are needs to be considered if you are planning an attempted culture change.

To read about best cultural practices from my own experience, read my next blog post.

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3 thoughts on “Company Culture: Setting the Tone

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