Owning the Culture of a Company

The culture of a company truly is the funniest thing. You hear so many people talking about it, critiquing it, criticising it, despairing over it, planning to change it, philosophising over transforming it and blaming someone else for it, but you rarely hear someone ‘own’ it.

Sure CEOs and big leaders have the biggest influence. They get to set all the foundation stones in place. They state purpose. They get to set the values and describe the behaviours that are expected. The get to prioritise customers over profit, or profit over customers. They set base wages and salaries fairly or not, and incentives to top them up on sunny days. They get to decide which leaders they promote and which ones they don’t. They decide on the rituals of meetings, how communication flows and how decisions are made. They get to decide how diverse and how inclusive and how ethical, they want to be.

All of that is a huge influence. In short, they have their hands on so many of the levers of ‘culture’ that there are very good reasons why courts (legal and public opinion) hold them responsible.

But what don’t they have?

What part of the culture is out of their control and in the hands of everyone else who makes up an organisation or a company?

Here’s some thoughts on what everyone who isn’t a CEO can do about culture.

Bring it!

Culture needs your energy. It needs people who believe and find a way to lift everyone around them. Turn up prepared and ready to make a difference. Optimistically tell the stories of what’s working well and challenge the naysayers who suck the energy out of the room.

Be that person in every meeting, every lunchroom, and around your space in the open plan office that makes it good to be there. Laugh. Turn up to the Christmas Party. Buy an IDAHO or Breast Cancer cupcake and thank the people who made them. Cook a sausage at the Social Club BBQ. Life is short. Make today a good day.

Be good for culture.  

Be the glue.

Cultures are held together by people. Get to know the people around you. Include them. Ask for their ideas or opinions in meetings and in the day-to-day. Listen when they give them. Care when they look sad or have had a few days away unwell.  Bring a dish – any dish – to International food day, but be more interested in appreciating the stories behind everyone else’s. Introduce people at a work function, rather than clambering over people to meet the CEO/other VIPs. Say Hi to someone on their first day. Offer to be their buddy if they need anything. Help them get it right when people get something wrong.

Be good for others.

Get back to the purpose

Understand the purpose of your organisation – the work they exist to do, and who they’re doing it for. Know the customers and what matters to them. Treat customers properly and absolutely in alignment with purpose. Make sure your work and your part of the organisation is doing the right thing by the community, or communities, you operate in or partner with. Ensure that what’s happening inside, on your watch, could be published on the front page of any paper, and only attract praise for doing the right thing.

Be good for customers and the community. 

Lead your team to the best of your ability

If you’re fortunate enough to have a leadership role, lead a culture for your team that is as good as it can be. Make sure everyone’s work is aligned to purpose, and that every contribution is appreciated. Care about the team and how they work together. Make it fun. Enjoy work and make sure the team does too. If you see misalignment that will hurt the organisation or customers or employees, let someone know. Think of a better solution and suggest it. If all else fails, make sure the CEO has the feedback they need to understand the issue. You can’t control the whole organisation, but you can make the culture come to life in the best possible way for the team you lead.

Lead the best culture you can!

Decide whether or not we stay

The most powerful thing you can do about culture is to choose to stay or not.

You know your personal values and you know when they’re under attack. If the culture you’re swimming in every day is completely against all your stand for, then walk away. A company that has a bad culture will hurt you. It will damage your confidence and your ability to be you & load you up with baggage to take home to your gorgeous family and friends, who don’t deserve the unload.

Alternatively, a good culture, that needs a hand to get more successful, deserves your contribution. Sure you’ll go home tired sometimes from the effort required, but you won’t be discombobulated. You’ll be appreciated and valued.

Stay for a culture you can add good things too.

Walk away from a culture that overwhelms you.

Vote with your body!

What can we do about culture in the middle? Own it!

With a thousand rules and policies, a gazillion capability frameworks, and way too many posters and mouse-mats swamping every workplace, think about what you can do. After all, culture is simply the way we treat each other and the way it feels to work here, and that means it belongs to every one of us.