Why You Should Make Culture the Boss

— September 6, 2019

Cultivating your company culture is the selfless act of continuously and consistently asking: How does this project, task, service, or product drive our purpose?

Think of your purpose and guiding principles as a roadmap for charting the culture you’re going to cultivate. However, your purpose statement won’t provide enough clarity to cultivate your culture. You have to make culture the boss.

The Deciding Factor

Culture needs to be the decision maker. It needs to determine what you do—the projects you work on, tasks you accomplish, services you provide, and products you create. Your company’s culture drives the actions of the business, your department, team, and each person’s role on the team. Until you start making those decisions based on your purpose, you cannot shift the culture.

There can be no ambiguity when it comes to culture, which is why it—and not you—has to be in charge. If there’s any uncertainty around your company’s purpose, your people will never be onboard.

Consider a scenario where one of your employees is assigned a task and they ask, “Why am I doing this?” As long as that task serves the purpose, you can point to your purpose statement and say, “Because this is our purpose and doing this task is how you serve our purpose today.”

Doing it this way makes for an easy explanation that gives clear direction and allows the person to see how they’re contributing. It also eliminates the tasks, projects, services, and products that do not serve the purpose.

Connect to Your Purpose

You must connect every task back to the purpose consistently. Even if you think you’ve already explained the connection to your people, you must repeat it every time you talk about a task or a project. Tie it back to the purpose of the company, the department, and the role. Tying purpose to culture takes momentum, and the moment you miss out on an opportunity to reinforce why your people are accomplishing a task or working on a project, you lose momentum in the shift of culture.

Consistency in explaining the why makes it clear that the purpose statement you’ve created for the company, the department, and the role makes the decisions for the organization, not you as the leader.

Defend Culture with Leadership

Once you’ve defined your culture (purpose and principles), it’s all about consistency. As the leader, you do this by being consistent in how you lead.

First, you have to make sure that every task you assign is tied back to purpose. Assigning a person to a project or job that doesn’t align with the purpose is confusing and isn’t fair to the employee. It will leave them feeling unfulfilled—like they’re not winning.

You must also be consistent with adherence to principles. You and your people have to align with the guiding principles you’ve defined, and when someone behaves outside these principles, you must address the elephant in the room, as it’s up to you to rein them back in. You do this with conversations, and they might be uncomfortable at times, but you have to have them. If you allow things to just slide, you’re basically condoning behavior that’s out of line with the culture. This tells people that you don’t take it seriously. What kind of message does that send to them and how would you expect them to react? You’re the role model and the defender of culture, and your people look to you to set the standard.

Building a strong culture is simple, not easy. Expect to have some tough conversations. It’s hard at first but believe me, it will become so much easier the more you practice it. The payoffs will make it all worth it.


This article was adapted from the author’s book, Align.

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Author: Chris Meroff

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