Culture – What’s the Big Deal

As a new leader taking on a new role we go through so many phases. Leaders think about a vision, often put pen to paper to define that vision, communicate that vision to the leadership team, build measurements, and expect a smooth execution. It sounds simple enough. So why doesn’t it work? In a word, culture. It is often easy to forget that the building blocks of an organization are the people doing the ‘real’ work. The employees who come to work everyday making the product or providing the service that generate the organization’s income are indeed the end users of the vision leadership provides. They look for leaders to break down barriers, provide direction, ensure accountability, and most importantly – provide the promise of workplace stability. That said, it is crucial to understand the pitfalls of the existing culture before providing a roadmap for the new vision.

Assess the root cause of the failure in the existing culture

Leaders know that assessment of past failures provide invaluable insight into developing effective plans for future states. Before launching that ‘great’ business changing plan look for signs of a past life in the organization and start asking questions. One of the organizations I visited int he past was poorly organized. It was clear that the leadership team had little interest in basic organization tools such as 5S and visual workplace. During the tour, I noticed a shadow board and 5S audit sheet tucked behind some excess inventory in the building. I caught an operator’s attention and simply asked – What is this?

The answers were shockingly revealing. The conversation covered a plethora of useful information:

  • Flavor of the month
  • Another dumb idea
  • Nobody held accountable
  • Just made things harder
  • Not focusing on numbers
  • More work
  • No time

Clearly, the opinion was formed and any entry of a ‘new’ top down vision would be doomed to follow the same path, at least from this person’s perspective.


Analyzing the details

How invaluable was a simple question? Very. In the example provided, we now knew that the culture believed that management is disingenuous, self serving, and focused on meeting short term goals.

A deeper dive suggests that this particular employee and likely others, were never INVOLVED in the execution and development phase of any strategic culture change.

In this example, the leadership wants a ‘clean and presentable environment’. Why wouldn’t anyone want that? How could the perception of the shop floor be so misaligned? I suspect you already know the answers.

Likely every program implemented, regardless of intent, was a forced implementation without taking the time to ‘teach the value’, ‘involve the people’, and ‘build accountability from the bottom up’.

Being a great leader means that you can ‘sell’ a vision. People will buy into value. As a leader, ask yourself if you are really providing value or simply trying to liquidate a flavor of the month.


Additionally, reconsider your role. The best leaders coach and break down barriers so that the best ideas come from the bottom up. I wonder what kind of response our friend on the shop floor would have share if asked – what do you think we need to do to keep the area orderly?



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