The success or failure of an enterprise is almost entirely dictated by how well the organization’s senior leadership creates a healthy culture. I know that that’s a bold statement, but it’s painfully true.
Culture happens when the organization’s senior leader(s) does or doesn’t practice good leadership. Let me say this differently. If the leader(s) is good (i.e., really “gets it” when it comes to leadership and what motivates and encourages people), the result will be a healthy culture. If not, the result will be an unhealthy culture. It’s that simple! And, if the culture is healthy, the enterprise will succeed. If not, it will struggle and ultimately fail.
So what is culture? The Encarta World English Dictionary defines culture as “The shared beliefs, customs, practices, and social behavior of a particular group.” Here’s another one, “A particular set of attitudes that characterizes a group of people.” In a sentence, “We have tried hard to avoid creating a blame culture.”
You get the idea.
Culture is tough to define but easy to see. It doesn’t take long to conclude that an organization’s culture is “good” or “bad.” The key is that you can’t create a good culture by talking about how important it is to have a good culture. Culture happens as a result of the behavior of the senior leader(s) in any organization. If there was ever an area where it’s important to “walk the talk,” this is it.
I like to use the example of the not-so-skilled dog trainer to illustrate my point. The trainer is attempting to teach a dog to come when instructed. The trainer stands at a distance from the dog and says, “come.” When the dog comes, the trainer “rewards” the behavior with a treat. Pretty simple. Right? What happens when the dog doesn’t come as instructed? The not-so-skilled dog trainer stands at a distance, says, “come,” and the dog continues to go about its business. So, the trainer yells louder while walking closer to the dog. After several attempts, the trainer has closed the distance between themselves and the dog and, in frustration, kicks the dog for not coming as commanded.
So, what did the dog learn? I’ll tell you. The dog learned, “don’t go to that person … they’re going to kick me!” Compare this to the mixed message of beating on your staff to “get out of the box” or “try something new and different” or otherwise take a risk, only to be “rewarded” with criticism and “what were you thinking!?!” when they fail. What does the person learn? They learn not to “stick their neck out” and take a risk because they might get their head chopped off. In other words, it’s one thing to “say” to your staff that you want them to try new things and take a few risks occasionally, but it’s a far different thing to create an environment (culture) that makes it safe for them to do so.