Culture in a Basket
My Easter Memories
Even as the memories of my childhood seemingly get farther away, I recall a holiday in my family very vividly: Easter. Every Easter, we would visit one of our relatives to have a massive Easter Egg hunt. It was massive because there were a lot of cousins, 45+ on either side of my family, both from Italian and Irish heritage.
Aside from the competitive fun we experienced, I always remember each Easter morning racing to find my basket. What used to be stuffed animals and toys turned to socks and underwear as I got older.
But one item in the basket stood out to me: The Chocolate Bunny
And over the years, I’ve thought about the chocolate bunny time and time again as I’ve dug deeper into organizations to help them develop their cultures and leaders. But we’ll come back to that in a moment.
Like a personality is to an individual, it is a culture to organizations.
Culture impacts every aspect of an organization, from its top executives to its newest employee. Think of culture as the glue that binds and shapes how employees execute the organization’s vision and mission and how customers and communities perceive the organization’s value.
As a consulting partner with Denison Consulting, an international organizational culture and leadership consulting firm, we view org culture as an org-level construct that considers behaviors and practices as a whole system. Culture gives you the big picture of how healthy your organization is functioning.
Culture is the foundation of what everything else is based
Back to that chocolate bunny. Imagine with me for a moment, back when you were a kid, finding your basket, tearing through the plastic grass, and eyeing the giant box in the basket – your chocolate Easter bunny.
You salivated at the chance to tear it open before you had breakfast. Not paying any attention to the box, you rip it open, the glistening foil, bright, shiny, lots of colors hugging tightly to the contours of the chocolate that lies beneath the wrapper.
As you find the most effortless seam to tear open, peeling back the foil, probably around the ears, revealing the sweet milk chocolate. Your mouth-watering, you bite in, and to your dismay, the bunny is hollow. It begins to crumble as you try to save pieces in your hands from falling all over the place.
There’s nothing on the inside but air!
Nothing But Air
Too often, I have experienced organizations whose culture resembles a cheap chocolate bunny. From the outside, they are bright and shiny. They accumulate “best place to work” awards, have their values plastered for everyone to see. However, when you peel back that layer and bite in, the organization’s culture is hollow.
Hollow in the sense of not practicing what they profess so loudly in the echoes of their new buildings where their awards are proudly displayed for candidates to see and their open workspaces and fancy modern furniture.
Instead, they are focused only on, as Patrick Lencioni calls it, the “smart” part of the organization as opposed to the “healthy” part of the organization. Smart areas include sales, marketing, and finance, whereas Healthy is the people-side, such as engagement, morale, low turnover, high-commitment, and the like.
No matter how “smart” an organization is if the culture isn’t “healthy,” it’s likely just getting by. These types of organizations claim to be nice cultures too but consciously lie to their employees because they are afraid of hurting their feelings or upsetting them. And, even worse, because feelings a spared, mediocrity is allowed to flourish.
Culture Is The Creamy Center
Contrast the hollow bunny to another favorite Easter treat that I grew to love, the Cadbury Egg. If you’ve never tried one, I encourage you to embrace the deliciousness that will ensue. For those of you that have, you know that, like our hollow chocolate bunny, it too has a shiny foil wrapper, and peeling that back reveals mouth-watering milk chocolate.
But here’s the difference, as you bite in, you realize it’s not hollow, but filled with “ooy-gooey” yumminess, that oozes and flows out, allowing you to enjoy each bite.
Organizations that are like the Cadbury Egg have a culture that is both Smart and Healthy. These types of organizations don’t just have employees but create evangelists because of the culture and environment the leaders have created. And, as a result, or outcome of that healthy culture, the organization has low politics, minimal confusion, respect, and employees engaged, committed, and love their jobs.
When you have a healthy culture where employees feel love at work it’s a sign you’ve empowered your leaders to have the courage to do their jobs, give helpful, direct feedback, and improve results.
Organizations value what brings about the results they most desire: improved performance and overall effectiveness. And, while proper processes play a role, it is the engaged employee that execute those processes in a healthy culture that deliver improved performance and effectiveness.
It’s no secret. A strong culture benefits everyone in your organization as well as external stakeholders, most notably your customers, clients, and users of your services.
So, let me ask you:
How healthy is your culture? Do you know?
How are you are creating, cultivating, and developing your organization’s culture? How are you looking beyond engagement scores that only give a slice of information?
What can you or your leaders do more to have less “air” and more substance in your culture?
Interested in learning about our culture shaping tools? Learn about the tools we use here.
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Also, if you’re a new leader, either to the organization or promoted from an individual contributor role, we recommend you download our ebook here.