Culture…it’s not just about the snacks in the fridge

When people say, “they’ve really got a great culture”, what are they actually referring to?

Do you also hear folks saying, “culture is soft, amorphous, hard to define, difficult to put into words…?” How about we change that. Right now.

Let’s break it down.

In my world of designing culture change,

culture = mindset + behavior

Your culture is how you think about things (your mindset, beliefs, values) and how you show up (your behavior, aka what you do and how you do it).

When an organization says, “our employees are our greatest asset”, what are they doing to live this value? What is actually happening and how do people experience this? Or, is this phrase written in the annual report, but much harder to identify in action? When we see managers investing time in getting to know their employees and building trust, this shows us a company that cares about its people.

What about when a company calls itself innovative? How are people showing up? What actions and behaviors prove to us innovation is at work? When R&D budgets are getting slashed and safer short-term ideas get the green light, are we really looking at a culture of innovation?

In short, culture is all about action.

Culture is a verb

It’s not a noun or an adjective. It’s not what you say about your company; it’s something you see in action.

What this means, is if you are showing up as your desired culture, others can see it and do it as well. This also means:

  • You can teach it
  • You can scale it
  • You can measure it
  • You can celebrate it!

You will know if it’s happening (or not). Your people will know. Your customers and partners will know….and your P&L will be the proof!

Developing your company’s culture can start small, with just a few intentional behaviors. When enough people are teaching these behaviors to others, looking for opportunities to do these behaviors consistently, and making them part of “how we do things around here”, you are building the culture you want.

When your organization’s behaviors are not aligned around a specific way of showing up, this does not mean there is no culture. You’re just getting a default culture. Culture will happen no matter what.

The question is: is your culture intentional?

Does it align with your aspirations and mission? How does it influence your decision-making, business priorities and ability to execute your strategy? Does it accelerate your company’s growth, innovation and ability to solve problems?

Or, does your culture keep you small, safe and mediocre? Does it scare away good ideas, allow toxicity to reign in the name of good sales numbers or quietly perpetuate inequality in the workplace?

Because if it does, it won’t matter what snacks you have in the fridge.

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