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Is Your Company Culture Accidental or Intentional?

June 24, 2019

(originally published by Dr Laura Ciel on

“It feels like it’s us against them,” she said as she kept her eyes to the floor. He added tentatively, “The fighting is really getting old. I don’t know how much longer we can keep doing this.” You can feel the tension in their words. The group is quiet, but there is much being spoken. This isn’t a new experience. In fact, it’s quite common when organizations have a disconnect between their vision and mission and their people.

These tensions in the group dynamic can live for years just under the surface, quietly waiting until a change occurs that pushes the tension level to a point that it can no longer be ignored. Mergers, acquisitions, exponential growth or a change in leadership are all possible changes that can highlight the dysfunction in an organization.

Why? Because many leaders do not make a healthy culture a priority. The reasons for that are varied and not critical to this paper, but if you are part of a leadership team I urge you to ask yourself this question. It’s not the only question I would ask you if I was assessing your culture, but it is certainly one of them and it will get you thinking about some things you may have been putting off:

“What do we do each day to align with our company’s vision and mission and how do we engage our entire team to do the same?”

Notice I didn’t ask you what kind of snacks you have in the lounge area or what fun activities your team engages in to stay connected. These are important, but not sufficient if you truly want to create a healthy organization. And if you, like many leaders, think culture isn’t important just start paying attention to the research. There is increasing evidence that positive work cultures lead to greater performance on many levels. (HBR)

Research shows that “culture can be a powerful and enduring source of competitive advantage” (HBR) with significant positive changes in the sense of an organization living it’s values, customer satisfaction and significantly increased revenue per employee. Interestingly, although more than 90 percent of executives in a longitudinal study (Duke) said culture is important at their firms, very few (15 percent) said their own corporate culture is exactly where it needs to be. This study also found that of the CEOs and CFOs around the globe who were part of the study, almost everyone (92 percent) said they believe attention and improvement of their firm's corporate culture would improve the value of the company.

What are the consequences of leaving the culture to accident? Lost revenue in many forms: top talent acquisition and retention, poor team engagement and productivity, health-related costs, turnover, and accidents among other consequences. (Gallup)

When the nineQteam is assessing culture in a dysfunctional company, we often see a lack of clarity around how team members live the organization's values or inconsistent modeling of behaviors that reflect these values. The overwhelm and exhaustion are heard in the voices of every team member when there is lack of clarity around the “why” and confusion about performance targets. Distrust, frustration, anger and passive aggressive actions build momentum as an organization begins to spin out of control. Ideally an organization proactively and intentionally sets up the foundation for a thriving culture, but often it is when these unhealthy behaviors and breakdowns occur at a threshold level that leaders feel compelled to take action.

This is a costly mistake, but understandable. Often, there is such a focus on the next targets that it feels like the “cost” is too great to take time to make sure the culture is healthy. Leaders who are proactive in setting up their culture have a sense of the importance and either hire someone to help them or have had experience in prior positions on what works and doesn’t. They intentionally take steps needed to support their entire team in being healthy, engaged, creative, inclusive and excited about going to work.

But what if your organization hasn’t done this yet? It isn’t always clear what steps need to be taken in order to create a thriving culture and often the negative momentum is great enough that an outside team is needed to help regain balance and co-create a healthier foundation. You can start with answering the question from the beginning of this paper ““What do we do each day to align with our company’s vision and mission and how do we engage our entire team to do the same?” If you don’t have an answer, here are a few tips to get you moving in the right direction:

Picture yourself in a variety of roles in your company and walk in that employee’s shoes (in your imagination or physically by their side). What feels good? What needs to change to feel better?

Get clear on how your vision, mission and values are embodied in day to day work. What do you do every day that aligns and honors those aspects of your organization?

Imagine the best company culture for your entire organization, then look at the areas that have the greatest discrepancy between “imagined best” and “current state.” Pick one to start with and begin by closing that gap, before moving to the next one.

**IMPORTANT: The longer the culture has been operating sub-optimally, the less likely it is to respond immediately to your actions. Don’t give up. Enlist the help of your leadership team and keep getting clear on what the best possible outcome would be.

Clarifying and embodying a thriving culture would ideally begin at the beginning of the company’s creation. Since this isn’t yet the norm, you may be experiencing some level of dysfunction. That’s ok.

You can start to shift that dysfunction into a healthier state by making it a priority and taking action today.

For leaders who care about their people and the world we all live in, creating a thriving culture is imperative. The rewards will benefit everyone as the organization strives for its highest potential; productivity, happiness, employee engagement, customer satisfaction and of course, positive financial performance