To Culture or Not?

I had lunch with a friend today who was all too keen to talk about the value of culture to organizations. This subject was, in itself, most surprising because up until today he has been a culture cynic. He previously saw culture as being a “nice to have” and something people hung their hats on when business was not doing particularly well.

So, what changed?

It seems that when his organization started to struggle, personalities fairly quickly changed as well. In the good times everyone loved everyone. The whole notion of being part of a great team was easy to adopt and why not? “If we are all doing well we must all be awesome, right?” People can look at the financial scoreboard and revel in their success. They had a culture of “winners”.

So, when the winning stopped (even for a relatively short period) the organization was stress tested. Ooops!! The awesomeness was diluted and, in some cases, washed away. And the fragility of potential failure set in. You could feel his pain as his story unfolded.

Luckily, for my part, I have always had a fundamental belief in a strong culture being the glue that binds an entity together. But being the curious person I am, I pursued his view of truth. “What changed when you were failing to win at everything?” “What brought the team undone?” “What essential ingredient was suddenly missing?”

3 simple questions for which he had one simple answer: TRUST. He spoke passionately about the power that a culture, built upon trust, unleashes. If you believe in, and trust, each other and your shared mission you cannot fail. In his case, when his business life stumbled, trust was sacrificed and the lack of a strong and enduring culture was exposed. Fairly quickly, the common sense light bulb popped on, and the true value of a great culture was revealed. It was never meant to be a “nice to have”; it was a core ingredient in sustained success and happiness.

Very cool. It is always good when friends agree.