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The Best Parts of Your Culture Aren't Scaling — Yet

The Best Parts of Your Culture Aren't Scaling — Yet


Culture matters. But does it? Really?

On the one hand, culture is happening all the time, with or without your permission. It’s the language we use, the way we treat people and how we get work done.

On the other hand, only one in five employees strongly agree they feel connected to their organization’s culture. In a typical organization, some get it, but many do not. And it’s unlikely to have any impact on their daily work, let alone improve outcomes that matter to leaders.

An intentional culture can drive outcomes -- if leaders take the following ideas to heart:

1. Start with a strengths-based approach to culture.

The good news is that most organizations already have pockets of a working culture. They just need a process for scaling it up. Great culture begins in certain departments or teams -- often those that are more engaged and with above-average performance.

How do we know this? When people strongly agree they feel connected to their organization’s culture, they are more likely to be engaged, recommend their organization to others, feel responsibility for quality, and feel they have the agility to meet customer and marketplace change.


Leaders who can identify those one in five employees -- who are connected to the culture and passionate about the company’s products and customers -- have already identified the ideal future state of their organization. Rather than asking the most disengaged people how they feel about the organization’s culture, study your best teams. Which teams exemplify the best version of your culture? How do they see the organization? When and where do they see culture influencing the decisions they make?

It’s only by fully understanding their high-performing teams that leaders can take the next step: taking the best version of their culture and making it consistent throughout the organization, from one in five to three in five.

2. Identify when your cultural values work against you.

Every organization has core values that express positive aspirations: Quality. Safety. Customer. Integrity. Teamwork. But cultural values are also specific to your organization. Each institution or business brings its values to life in a unique way that constitutes its identity: Treating each other like family. Taking pride in every detail. Never leaving a teammate behind.


Not surprisingly, leaders want these values to inspire people. So, they often present them in a positive light. But leaders should also consider the “dark side” of cultural values. Every cultural value has the potential to get in the way of an organization’s best version of itself.

  • A culture of teamwork can lead to coercion. (“You want to be a team player, right?”)
  • A culture of quality can deter people from innovating or redefining what quality means in a new marketplace.
  • A customer-focused culture can promote unfair treatment of employees if pleasing the customer means giving employees responsibilities based on factors outside of their competence.
  • A culture of collaboration can slow decision-making.

The bottom line is that values are not good by default. Every leader should model and celebrate their values at their best and coach toward development when their values harm the health of the organization.

3. Remember that culture is what’s observable.

Culture is about words, actions, habits, decisions and behaviors. In other words, it’s visible. You notice the culture when you enter a retail space, a factory floor or an office.

Leaders should step away from the desk to see their cultural values in action. And if they don’t see them in action, they need to coach their culture in two important ways:

  • Lead rituals. Rituals are a powerful way to bond teams around expected behaviors. If team members get lost, they can return to the ritual as an anchor of cultural identity.
  • Lead recognition. Recognition is a primary lever for leaders to reinforce culture. When a leader’s words don’t match the vision statement on the wall, people will inevitably follow the leader. Leaders need to embody what they want everyone else to do.

Gallup data suggest that most organizations have yet to tap into the power of their culture. But the few that make culture central to business success set themselves apart from the competition. They start with their organization’s existing strengths, coach that culture toward health and away from toxicity, and reinforce their culture continually through expectations, rituals and recognition for excellence. That’s a culture that matters -- one that drives real-world outcomes and organizational success.

Build an intentional culture that drives outcomes.



Ed O'Boyle is Global Practice Leader for Gallup's workplace and marketplace consulting.

Ryan Pendell contributed to this article.

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