Myths and Truths About Culture

Myth #1:

Corporate culture is mainly comprised of the organization’s core values.

Truth #1:

Your organization’s core values, as they are actually demonstrated - not just in a frame on the wall - play a role in your culture.  However, “culture” goes far beyond simply core values and is ultimately comprised of your direction (vision, mission, strategies, goals and performance targets), engagement and alignment of your employees, your ability to listen to your marketplace and adapt appropriately, and the systems and processes that ultimately allow the organization to be stable and efficient.  Culture is comprised of the traits and attributes measured in all four quadrants of the Denison Culture model.

Myth #2:

By measuring ‘employee engagement,’ we are measuring our organization’s ‘culture’.

Truth #2:

As described in the above ‘truth’, your organization’s culture comprises many elements related to direction, involvement, engagement, adaptability and consistency.  Engagement and alignment of employees at all levels is important; however, culture goes far beyond the notion of ‘employee engagement’.

Myth #3:

Culture is intangible, esoteric, and difficult to measure - let alone link to business results.

Truth #3:

Culture is comprised of behaviors that take place in the organization day in and day out – and these behaviors ultimately create the results your organization achieves (or fails to achieve).  Because culture is the culmination of behaviors, your culture is measurable, quantifiable and ultimately, linked with your organization’s measured business results.

 
Your culture is measurable, quantifiable and ultimately linked to your organization’s measured business results.

Myth #4:

We still don’t understand how corporate culture works or how it is linked to bottom-line business results.

Truth #4:

Over 20 years of research, in thousands of companies worldwide, shows us clearly how culture works – and reveals a clear link between it and a company’s profitability, sales/revenue growth, market share, quality, innovation, safety, employee satisfaction and more.

Myth #5:

Changing corporate culture is a cumbersome, difficult, and painstakingly slow process.

Truth #5:

By targeting and developing behaviors that support desired results, and applying lessons learned through others’ experience, both culture change and its desired performance improvements can be quickly achieved.

Myth #6:

Culture is solely embedded in the founder of the company or, worse yet, “culture just happens.”

Truth #6:

Effective cultures are always the result of thoughtful leadership, involving the entire organization in a focused direction. As a leader, by taking the right steps, you can rapidly change your organization’s culture at any point in its evolution.

Culture development is comprised of creating clarity of direction, aligning/engaging all employees, developing an adaptable mindset and establishing systems/processes to support efficiency and horizontal synergy. 

Myth #7:

Having a ‘happy company’ and ‘satisfied employees’ is the goal of culture development.

Truth #7:

The goal of true ‘culture development’ is to build a high-performing and sustainable organization.  Culture development is comprised of creating clarity of direction, aligning/engaging all employees, developing an adaptable mindset and establishing systems/processes to support efficiency and horizontal synergy.  As you build your high-performing culture, your high-performing and high-potential employees will be ‘happy’ and ‘satisfied’ (and your low-performing and disengaged employees will leave!)

Myth #8:

Culture change must start at the top, or it does not start at all.

Truth #8:

In decades past, we thought that ‘change’ and ‘greatness’ needed to start at the top.  Although it’s always ideal if the path to greatness is led by the top team, today we know that many companies and organizations have become stronger in spite of the top team.  Many organizations improve because individual departments or functions have committed themselves to becoming excellent, and the positive change moves horizontally across throughout the organization.   In a sense, the organization changes from the inside out – and up.  In this very self-empowered time, managers at the middle (and employees at all levels) are taking the lead to make their organizations great.

Myth #9:

Culture is a luxury to be thought about when there is extra time and resources.

Truth #9:

Cultural issues have strategic impact that must be managed to preserve business value and ensure success. As a leader (of the company, a function, a department or a team), there is probably nothing you can do with your time and money that will have more long-term leverage for your business success than focus on your culture.

Myth #10:

If my organization is embarking on ‘culture change’, we need to figure out how to move forward on our own.

Truth #10:

Many companies and organizations (and their leaders) have gone before you on this path!  Countless organizations have transformed their cultures from mediocre or average to high performing – there is much to learn (and much to apply) from those companies and the leaders within them.  Best practices abound – and will apply to your organization’s path forward.

Myth #11:

There is ‘one right’ culture!  Our culture needs to look like other high performing cultures.

Truth #11:

There are many high-performing cultures in the world of business – and many of them look very different from one another.   Designing and developing your culture (and moving your organization’s culture forward with intention) depends entirely on your organization’s specific identity, purpose, vision and desired performance targets.  There is much to learn from other organizations, but your culture will ultimately be unique.