Culture is Local


I was speaking to a group of public relations executives recently and one of the questions that I received following my presentation was “how do I create the culture that will drive success in my local office when the company culture is different?” I think I gave a long rambling answer of some sort but I could have answered in one short sentence; Culture is local.

I have worked with many organizations where the culture differs dramatically from manager to manager or office to office. That’s because culture is built very differently by different leaders. Walk into any organization and find the leader who is building the most effective culture within their team, and you will probably find the most successful leader. Culture starts at the top but when you are the leader of your team – that’s you.

Successful leaders take complete ownership of the culture that exists on their team and they understand that their actions create the culture that will help their people make countless decisions every day. Part of becoming a successful leader is defining and building the culture that helps everyone make the right decisions, the ones that lead to sustainable growth and success.

Most of the leaders I work with have never really given much thought to how they define and build culture. They usually have a well thought out strategic plan, but rarely do I find leaders that have taken the time to create a culture plan. Sometimes that means that they are trying to execute their new strategy in a culture designed to execute the old one. That doesn’t work.

Think about all of the questions a new person in your business might have that are quickly answered by your culture. What time should I show up? How often do I use the phone versus email? How should I prepare for meetings? What’s more important, focusing on customers or pleasing my boss? How much information should I share? How do I deliver bad news? How do I dress? How much risk can I take? How many mistakes can I make? How much time do I have to learn new things?

The way we learn these and many other things on a team, even a small one, is by watching everyone else around us, that’s culture. Each of these decisions though, will have an affect on how successful the business or team is and every one of them affects performance. All of them together can make or break your business.

I’ve often heard culture described as “how things are done around here”. As leaders we have the responsibility to establish a culture that ensures they are done the right way, for the right reasons. Not just because we tell people to do them that way, even in the worst cultures you can rarely find anyone overtly asking people to do the wrong things, but because its how we do them. And because it’s how we expect others to do them as well.

Day in and day out, our actions as the leader of a team, a business, an office will send all the cues that others need to decide how they should operate. Those cues collectively establish the culture. We can either build the one that helps them, and us, become incredibly successful, or we can allow one to be formed that we have to compete with every day in our role as a leader. The choice is ours, and ultimately, so is the culture.

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