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Why Your Culture Isn’t Working as Designed

By Perry Holley | March 8, 2023
Why Your Culture Isn’t Working as Designed

You can’t not have a culture. Every organization or organized group has a culture. We must ask whether our culture originated by design or by default. 

Culture is what it feels like to work or live here (that’s right, your home has a culture). According to Webster’s dictionary, culture is the shared attitudes, values, goals, and practices that characterize an institution or organization.

To design a culture, you must decide on the shared values, attitudes, and goals that will define your group or organization. But that’s only step one. Where many organizations fail is that they stop there. They decide on four to five core values, write them on a poster or coffee mug, and call it a culture. The hard work has not begun yet.


Once you have decided on your four to five core values, you must define what each value means. This cannot be left to every individual in your organization or home. If one of your corporate values is teamwork, you can’t leave it up to every individual to decide what they think teamwork looks like. The leader may intend teamwork to mean working across department and division lines to provide unparalleled service to the customer, but to the individual, it could mean trying to work well with the people in their unit. Core values left undefined are just words on a poster.


The next step in designing the culture you want is to define the behaviors you expect to see for each of your values. For example, the behaviors you would expect to see if teamwork is a core value would be open communication, collaboration, problem-solving, and group accountability. The way you encourage these types of behaviors is to catch people demonstrating these behaviors. When you observe the behavior, acknowledge it publicly for all to hear. 

Another good exercise is to capture these observations through stories to be shared at team meetings and new hire orientations. The more your organization hears you share these examples, the more real your core values will become, and the more established your culture will become.


You will likely see evidence of bad behavior in the early days of culture creation – that is, behaviors that do not represent your core values. This must be addressed with the individual not behaving as our culture would require. There may be some circumstances where this may be discussed with the team, but in most cases, this is best handled one-on-one as a coaching conversation.


The result of having an intentionally designed culture is that it will guide every member of the organization to know how we are to think, act, and interact with each other. It will become the answer to every question that arises. What would our culture tell us to do if there is a decision to make? If there is a client issue, how would our culture direct us to handle it? New market dynamics, employee concerns, or change effort underway – how do our culture and core values require us to think, act, and interact? When you design your culture versus defaulting to a culture, you are determining how we will do things here in advance. And as the author of Traction, Gino Wickman, says, “Once they’re defined, you must hire, fire, review, reward, and recognize people based on these core values. This is how to build a thriving culture around them.”

About Perry Holley

Perry Holley is a coach and facilitator with Maxwell Leadership, as well as a published author. As co-host of the Maxwell Leadership Executive Leadership Podcast, he has a passion for developing others and seeing people grow into the leaders they were intended to become.

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