How Important Is Culture?

How Important Is Culture?

If you don’t know the answer to that question, then your culture needs immediate attention.

It’s Saturday evening, and you are meeting several of your friends for dinner. You do this once a month, and you always look forward to it. It’s the same group every Saturday. You meet at the same restaurant and usually sit at the same table (It’s okay if you don’t, though, because you’re flexible). The conversation is fun, and there are always a lot of laughs. You know what to expect. However, on this particular Saturday night, one of the group brings a friend along who just moved to town. Everybody is very warm and welcoming right up until the time the new guy makes a strong political statement. Politics is not an “approved topic” in this group. An awkward silence fills the space

Your organization has a culture. Your family has a culture. When you get together with friends on a Saturday night, there is a culture. In each, there is a set of shared attitudes, behaviors, values, and assumptions. There is a set of unwritten rules that are more widely adhered to than any rules that might be written down. It’s what pulls us together and pushes us away. Scenarios like the one above, play out every day in the board room, in the lunch room and in the dining room. Most people will either adjust to fit the culture or they’ll go find a culture that fits them, and, occasionally, some of those people will be culture creators.

Why is this important?

“Culture eats strategy for breakfast.” ~Peter Drucker

Most companies spend more time talking about the strategy of the organization than its culture. As leaders we know that strategy is critical to set the direction and outcomes for our teams. We have a vision and a plan to execute on our strategy. We will do whatever it takes to be successful. If the culture aligns with that plan, then all systems are go. If the culture doesn’t align, it’s like getting multiple flat tires every day, and we are left wondering why this is so hard.

This warrants the question, does the company accept the culture of the current team, or does the team change to create the culture that aligns with the outcomes? The answer – yes and yes. You might be surprised about how this looks.

Who Defines the Culture?

As a leader your first job is to understand the people who are currently on your team and what drives them. It is likely you will start to identify sub-cultures within your organization. Usually, we find the people who think, act and feel like we do. In schools, we call these sub-cultures cliques. You remember the jocks, the popular girls, the geeks, etc.? The reason these sub-cultures form is due to a basic human desire to belong. If you, as the leader, don’t give your team a culture that they feel they belong to, they will form their own. Often, this will not work in your favor. One prime example that you might be experiencing currently are the subcultures of Gen Y, Gen X and Baby Boomers, which leads us to the next awareness.

Dear leader … wait for it …not everyone views the world like you do. While we all know this at some level, it is time to recognize how this impacts your culture, your strategy and your outcomes. Why? Because until you expand your awareness to see the BENEFITS of different view points, you will struggle with developing a unified, high-performing culture that’s aligned with your strategy.

What Is the Right Culture?

The January-February 2018 issue of the Harvard Business Review (HBR) dives deep into the topic of culture. In this report, HBR identifies the eight styles that apply to both organizational culture and individual leaders. They are as follows.

  • Caring – focused on relationships and mutual trust.
  • Purpose – exemplified by idealism and altruism.
  • Learning – characterized by exploration, expansiveness and creativity.
  • Enjoyment – expressed through fun and excitement.
  • Results – characterized by achievement and winning.
  • Authority – defined by strength, decisiveness and boldness.
  • Safety – defined by planning, caution and preparedness.
  • Order – focused on respect structure and shared norms.

The authors write, “It is common to find organizations that emphasize both Results and Caring, but this combination can be confusing to employees. Are they expected to optimize individual goals and strive for outcomes at all costs, or should they work as a team and emphasize collaboration and shared success?” In fact, Results is the highest ranked culture in all of the industries in the study, with Caring being second highest. I would venture this is likely true in your organization as well.

How then do we deal with what could be seen as conflicting cultures? Furthermore, how do we make sure the culture is aligned with strategy and leadership? Also, what’s the cost to your organization if your culture is not aligned? How much are those flat tires impacting your bottom line? In a 2016 HBR study, executives estimated wasting more than $144,500 per day (Yes, that’s PER DAY) on people problems at work.

Creating a Conscious Culture

The answer to these questions is to create a Conscious Culture. What is a Conscious Culture? Our simple definition is it’s a culture that is filled with team members who are awake and aware. These team members understand that how they show up in their environments matters, not only on the outside, but even more importantly, on the inside. They accept personal responsibility for their choices. They respond to what is happening in their environments to create a win for the company, a win for the customer, a win for their team and a win for themselves. They know how to focus on results, playing to win, while supporting everyone on their team (all stakeholders) to do the exact same thing. They know that somebody else doesn’t have to lose for them to win.

The way we create a Conscious Culture is by increasing the level of self-awareness of the team members starting with the organizations’ leaders. As the leaders continue to expand their awareness, they start to see how the different perspectives of their team bring value to the culture. This, in turn, breaks down barriers because they trust themselves to be transparent which builds authentic relationships. This will help them let go of pre-conceived notions regarding how things should be, and instead, focus on the broader outcome. This vulnerability of letting go creates the strength to build a stronger, emotionally intelligent, focused culture that has a purpose greater than any individual.

Would you like to find out what kind of culture you have? Take the HBR Quiz. After you complete it, talk to us about how to develop a conscious culture for your group, which is the fastest way to align your strategy, outcomes, leadership and team.

At High5 Leadership we warp speed the self-awareness process through our experiential classes and events. For more information on how to speed up your team’s transformation, contact us at and visit our website at