Culture is the atmosphere that surrounds us all the time. It is the most persuasive reinforcement mechanism which silently strengthens mental models, routines, behavioral habits and assumptions about how we are expected to show up, get our work done, react to issues and problems, improve, collaborate and contribute. A healthy culture brings out the best in people and enables teams to achieve amazing feats. An unhealthy culture kills enthusiasm, stifles innovation, prevents people from developing, suppresses collaboration and impedes productivity.
Leadership influences culture more than any other factor. In fact, most cultures have developed informally over many years and left essentially unexamined and unmanaged. But culture is deviously difficult to transform into something better than what we currently live with day to day.
Most organizations have a set of values and a mission statement, but rarely does the culture align. Instead, values and missions have become slogans that are not understood as guiding principles on how we should act while at work. Ideas such as respect, inclusion, innovation, collaboration and teamwork are declared to be important yet not consistently demonstrated. They may occur in isolated situations with certain leaders, managers or teams, but are not embedded in the culture.
It seems many organizations lack a strategy or plan concerning their culture – where it is, where it needs to be, and the incremental steps required to shift it towards better health. In the workplace, leaders and managers influence the culture to a huge degree. Managers focus on what leadership deems most important and front-line contributors focus on what their mangers talk about most often. When leadership internationally or unintentionally is silent, culture is like an untended garden: it continues to grow only with weeds in place of healthy plants.