Talking about culture is not the same thing as building a great culture, but it’s a good start.

By Simon D’Arcy

Many leaders talk about culture. Few aspire to do something about it. Fewer still make it a top priority and follow it all the way through. Defining a vision and a set of core values to guide the organization is a great start. But for most, when swirling business deadlines re-assert themselves, cultural aspirations are sidelined. As a result, the gap between cultural aspiration and how people actually behave persists.

Key questions that reveal if your company has an aspirational culture:

  • Do the stated values of your company mean something personally to YOU?
  • Do you consciously strive to behave in a way that is consistent with those values?
  • In your view, does the senior leadership team of your company walk the talk of these values most of the time?
  • Do these values inspire you?  How about your team, your manager?  Your CEO?

If the answer is no to any of these, you are not alone. We estimate that over half of the 18,000 companies with more than 500 employees are in a similar place. Here are a couple of commonly cited reasons I have heard previous clients mention for not following through on culture.

“We have too many other important business priorities.”  It doesn’t have to be an either/or choice. You can tackle your top two strategic priorities in a culture consistent way, or a culture inconsistent way.

“HR will handle it.”  Bad idea. Often delegating culture stuff to the HR function comes with abdication of executive ownership for culture and often become just one of many HR priorities. And while there are exceptions to this, we find that most HR departments aren’t positioned nor staffed to succeed at engaging the whole company in a culture building effort.

“We would love to, but can’t afford it. Only companies with lots of money can afford to do that.”   1. At a recent talk at the Culture Summit, Maia Josebachvilli, VP of People at Greenhouse walks people through the value added to an organization by increasing the value each employees brings to your company as long as they are with you (aka Employee Lifetime Value or ELTV).  Culture efforts increase ELTV by impacting how quickly a new employee becomes a fully contributing, how much they develop over time, and how long they stay. 2. Who says culture building always has to cost money. There are many guerilla culture building efforts that can be done quickly, easily and without big budget impact.

If you are a leader at company where the “culture talk” exceeds “culture walk,” then maybe it’s time to start to make the case for taking it more seriously.  And, fortunately, the case for the ROI of investing in culture keeps getting stronger.

Simon D’Arcy   Curator @ Partner at Evolution.  Champion of the Culture Builders Manifesto.

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Simon D’Arcy is a partner at Evolution, where he works with leaders of fast growing growing start-ups and high-growth companies that strive to be iconic, world-enriching entities. He is an executive coach, consultant and leadership mentor with over 20 years of experience assisting leaders and companies on six continents. His work focuses on helping leaders become highly effective culture builders for their teams and companies. Recent clients include Tile, 8i, Slack, Dropbox, Yahoo!, Genentech, and Slack. He is the founder and curator of—a resource for leaders curious about the latest inspiration and insight on culture building. He is also the author of the forthcoming Culture Builders Manifesto.

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