Company Culture : The Magic Ingredient You’ve Been Missing

Company culture. Dozens of business articles highlight the importance of culture, how to diagnose the current company culture, and how to guide culture. Business owners and managers are encouraged to choose characteristics that will lead to a profitable company and encourage all employees to arrive at work with those principles in mind (see Creating A Company Culture Where Ideas Are Encouraged).

I work at a start-up. The managers spent months ironing out the principles that the company would incorporate into our workflow which would become the culture. They even devised a fun poem to remind us how we should be developing a culture of learning and pride.

Months passed. That culture didn’t develop. Not a surprise. Workers can’t be ordered to take pride in their work. And the overwhelming collection of low performers weren’t being encouraged to improve. Worse, no one was really doing anything to counteract those issues.

Many companies that decide to develop a culture stumble into this very issue. They determine what culture they want, they unveil their vision, they develop half-hearted measures, and then months later they wonder “what happened?”

Dr. Mark Allen, an MBA professor with Pepperdine University, presented a webinar on culture driven companies that reveals that fatal flaw of many culture initiatives: the failure to determine “who is responsible for culture in your organization.”

At the start-up I work with, the answer would probably vary. Some would attribute responsibility to managers, others to marketing, and some to everyone within the organization. That ambiguity is a problem. If everyone thinks someone else is responsible, then no one will actively work on cultivating culture.

As you contemplate who should be responsible, you might also want to consider Dr. Allen’s second question: “who is accountable for culture?” Many organizations might be able to provide an answer to the question who is responsible, but very few will also be able to adequately supply an answer to the question who is accountable.

The question of accountability shatters any illusion that the company I work for is really trying to shape the culture. We might claim everyone is responsible, but no one is accountable. No one is asked in their bi-yearly reviews, how much they have done to shape the culture or why the attempts to wrangle the culture has failed. No one is reprimanded or held accountable for that failure.

And that lack of accountability is a problem. Allen reminds us that “it’s very hard to accomplish anything in business without accountability.” Without accountability, developing culture becomes a fun, annoying, or complicated side project. Side projects get pushed to (well) the side when everyone, HR, marketing, or managers are given more vital tasks that will affect their standing within the company.

Accountability ensures that everyone put in charge of the task will bring their “A” game. Due to the very real potential to be reprimanded in some way over failure to instill a good culture, employees who are responsible for culture are more motivated to:

  • Make thorough game plans.
  • Enthusiastically tackle the plans.
  • Periodically evaluate how the culture has been incorporated within the company.
  • Learn from those failures.
  • Switch tracts if the current game plans aren’t working.

Responsibility and accountability are vital to successfully guiding a company’s culture in the right direction. As business owners, managers, and employees contemplate how to best incorporate a culture, they should start the process off right be determining who among them will be responsible for the culture and how they will be held accountable for their ability to implement that culture.

Photo Credit: Filip Federowicz (filu) via Compfight cc