There must be a corollary to the Italian proverb, “a fish rots from the head,” where the leadership gets some credit if an organization’s culture is outstanding. Please send it to me if you have a good one.
Culture has been called “the ripples on the ocean of human nature.” I like to think of it as the how and why of getting along.
“Culture eats strategy for breakfast” is a famous quote by Peter Drucker. I’ve heard it repeated by numerous famous CEOs, to the point of it becoming trite. Of course strategy is not insignificant; they are just calling out the importance of culture.
Culture is the collective ideas, beliefs and values of a group. Having a great culture is like being in love. It is hard to describe, but you certainly know if you are in it.
Some say the world is made up of two types of people. Let’s call them Goofs and Grumps. You can imagine from the name how the Goofs act. Guess which tribe sales and marketing types are from. I’m guilty. I am a rainmaker.
I’ve also heard the two camps referred to as Chaos Muppets and Tight Muppets. On the Muppet Show, all characters were one type or the other. Whatever they are called, it is imperative that a well-run organization’s culture facilitates their getting along.
A good culture exhibits “cultural ambidexterity.” It needs to accommodate both types of personalities. Success is much more likely to occur if we all get along.
I lost a close friend recently. He was a columnist, author, screenwriter, etc. He called his weekly human interest/humor column, The Minister of Culture.
Overly serious types used to challenge him about the title. His retort was always, “It’s a joke! Get it?!” He definitely was not a Grump or a Tight Muppet.
Years ago, a consultant called me “the culture in my company’s yogurt.” I took that as a great compliment, even if I couldn’t quite unpack it.
When an organization gets larger, keeping the original culture can become challenging. I remember once, about 25 years ago, my HR manager offhandedly mentioned, “You know, most of your employees are about to quit.” I had no idea. Something about the guy running the shop at the time: Spoiler alert, it was not me.
Culture is fragile. It seems like the culture can change with a hint of a breeze. It takes constant maintenance to keep it in its prime. Surveys alone are not the answer, but they are a tool.
Economists call survey data “the lowest form of data” due to its inherent inaccuracy. I wish I had the answer. Again, it is like being in love. If you have a bad culture, everyone feels it.
A famous coach’s son told me, “Don’t act surprised when you win. That’s what winners do, they win.” That’s an example of an inherently good culture. ●
Steve Peplin is CEO of Talan Products