Culture Is as Culture Does

There is an old Native-American saying that goes something like, “If you want to know where your enemy is going, don’t look at their eyes – look at their moccasins.”

The same can be said for culture. Many organizations talk/brag about their friendly, people-centered, transparent, honest … (fill in your adjectives here) cultures. The question becomes, how do they behave? Do they put those words into action? Every level of the organization looks to the levels above (especially their direct supervisor) to see if their daily behavior is consistent with the cultural values being espoused.

If (when) they don’t, employees are reinforced in the belief that “talk is cheap,” and that “actions speak louder than words.” Even worse for the organization’s leaders, they talk to each other about this – a lot!

What is an organization to do? First, “under-promise and over-deliver.” Be cautious of creating and publishing lofty statements that read well but are not likely to be followed.

Second, leaders at every level need to hold themselves and each other privately and publicly accountable for their daily, “business as usual” behavior. By the way, this means celebrating the desired behaviors as much as calling out the bad. Only after this is done consistently and with appropriate consequences, should they do the same for those who report to them.

Finally, everyone would do well to realize that culture isn’t a discrete entity. It can’t be pointed at, counted in any meaningful way, or changed through a PR campaign or training class. It is a shared mindset; a byproduct of accumulated history, stories, and behaviors. It’s “what and how we do what we do when no one is looking.”

Where are your moccasins pointing? Only if your moccasins are moving towards your stated culture can you expect others to change the direction of theirs.