Culture: It’s a Heart Thing

5 Steps to Turn Your Corporate Culture from Repulsive to Infectious

Corporate culture is more than what you can see from the outside looking in; more than the “Our Core Values” plaque that you hang in the employee cafeteria or store restrooms (I’ve seen this countless times); more than a hip, new look to your office interior; more than a dress code or the occasional lack thereof; more than throwing parties and creating cool slogans. And even though I have a child-like affinity to the Millennial, fun-loving, T-shirt wearing office vibe, corporate culture is even more than recreating professional norms.

Culture should be seen as a way to create cohesion between a business as an entity, its activities and its employees in a way that not only maximizes efficacy within the company but also creates cohesion between the brand and its perceived image (Apple immediately comes to mind). Culture should no longer be seen as a way to manipulate employees into behaving a certain way. Nor should it be a means of convincing shareholders of ethical behavior. Corporate culture is the heart of a company–it holds it together.

Any given company’s culture should not be described as good or bad. A statement of moral quality is relative to the standard in use and is determined by opinion. However, whether a culture is repulsive or infectious  to its participants and benefactors can be determined by measurable observations. I am not suggesting that ethics should be thrown out of the window, only that ethics does not directly determine the profitability of your company. A properly fitted culture does.

Do you want a culture that increases your profitability?

Try these 5 steps for a truly infectious culture:

1. Teach Strategy

Upper management’s job is to make strategic decisions. Lower management and employees carry out those decisions tactically. Unfortunately, many times the frontmen to the organization (you know, the ones actually interacting with customers) do not know why they are supposed to follow Protocol #33 under Section 2B in their handbook. All they know is that if they don’t, they’ll be reprimanded. Or the store manager doesn’t know why he can’t do price promotions, he just knows he needs to make his monthly quota.

Michael Porter puts it this way–“One of the leader’s jobs is to teach others in the organization about strategy.” Teaching employees why they need to do something will go a long way in their effort to carry it out. I’m not asking you to cede your authority to the wishes and wants of every employee. Nor am I asking you to explain every decision you make. What I am asking is that you trust your company and allow its internal benefactors to take ownership of its purpose and its direction. The “why” is just as important as the “what”.

This is the first and most important step to creating an infectious corporate culture, ergo the lengthy description.

2. Be the Cultural Mascot

The incessant “Do what I say, not what I do” just doesn’t cut it anymore. If you want your employees to act a certain way, take the first step and do it yourself. For example, Andy Grove of Intel was a strong proponent of every employee using common sense in the workplace. He questioned everything. And soon enough, his employees began asking questions and developing better ideas because of it. Ipso facto, Intel as we know it today.

If you want a fun-loving environment, have fun yourself. If you want your employees to be humble, exude humility. Emulate the behavior you want from your staff.

3. Champion the Cause

I’m a huge proponent of leading by example. Unfortunately, exemplifying what you desire (in and of itself) is not enough to see results. If you want your culture to really take shape, be both the mascot and the champion.

4. Reward Cultural Behavior

Not good behavior. Cultural behavior. If an employee is exemplifying your company’s values, beliefs and behaviors, reward her. Celebrate wins openly. Make it a big deal.

Here’s what I’m talking about: Your core values state you want to “build family spirit.” Celebrate the matriarchs and patriarchs of your office! Zappos, an online shoe store, presents the “Super Awesome Description” award to a member of their innovative department every month. Can you guess which of their 10 core values this award supports? (If you don’t like playing the question game, the answer is #4 — “Be adventurous, creative, and open-minded.”)

Zappos has one of my favorite cultures. To see their core values and what they do, click here.

5. Repeat

Let’s digress for a second. I think we can agree sales training should be more than a one time event (if yours is, you might want to revisit your process). Likewise, it’s best to assume a one-time rinse through the aforementioned steps will not change a thing. We want our core values to be engrained. Infusion doesn’t occur with a check-list mentality. This process needs to be a part of who you are (sound like Step #2?). So continue to teach strategy, be the cultural mascot, champion the cause, and celebrate cultural behavior.

The more you follow these five steps, the more contagious your culture will become.

On the corporate culture continuum between repulsive and infectious, where does your company stand?


Please feel free to leave your thoughts in the comments section below. I’d love to hear from you!

You can also contact me directly via this page.

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One Comment on “Culture: It’s a Heart Thing”

  1. […] partial to creating an infectious corporate culture. It’s not wrong to say that a strong organizational culture is important. In fact, I believe […]


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