Hitting the Reset Button on Culture

One of my favorite quotes is from management guru, Peter Drucker: 

Culture eats strategy for breakfast. 

As an advisor and coach who does a fair amount of work with clients to design strategies governing their growth and sustainability, the irony is not lost on me.  Nor is the power of the message.


“Culture expresses goals through values and beliefs and guides activity through shared assumptions and group norms.”

(Harvard Business Review, Jan-Feb 2018)

The culture of our workplaces and communities has everything to do with how successful and satisfied we are. Think about it. What influences the quality of your work and your relationships on a daily basis? What brings people to your organization, and why do they leave (which is much more telling)? Chances are it is the values, norms and written or tacit rules of engagement that govern how you feel about your work and about your colleagues. Sure, a great strategy with supporting tactics and operational plans is an important ingredient -- aligning resources and actions with goals -- but it will never be realized if the underlying culture does not support the achievement of these objectives.

How do you know if you need to hit the reset button?  Here are a couple of clues:

  • Turnover is high or trending upwards
  • Gossip is ever present (people are talking about each other, not to each other)
  • Conversation is avoided, giving preference to emails, texts and other less direct forms of communication
  • There is a dip in morale and an uptick in confusion around roles and responsibilities
  • People seem to be going through the motions and innovation or initiative are lagging

Culture is…Shared. Pervasive. Enduring. Implicit.

The good news is that it doesn’t take long to achieve a turnaround. What is does require is commitment, honesty and follow through. For a number of clients, I’ve designed and facilitated retreats and town hall meetings that focus on renewing and invigorating corporate culture. These involve, among other things: identifying the institution’s core values; creating a longer list of principles with practical examples of what values look like in action; and clarifying what staff can expect from leadership -- and what leadership expects from them.  This can govern everything from what it looks like to show initiative (I happen to love the shorthand “assume permission”) to what kind of conflict resolution techniques will be offered. This approach provides an opportunity for the community to participate in creating the shared culture, and places responsibility on all parties to live up to the expectations that are now explicit.


 “Leading with culture may be among the few sources of sustainable competitive advantage left to companies today.”

(Harvard Business Review, Jan-Feb 2018)

Hitting reset allows leaders to reaffirm what – and who – they stand for, and what actions they will take to demonstrate their commitment.  This is how you get to great!