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Unpacking Culture: The Importance + Your Role

Culture can be a buzzword in the world we live in today. What is it? What impact does it have? Do we even have a culture?

These are all questions posed during a recent conference I was presenting at. "I am in a family-owned business so I don't think this topic relates to me." That sentiment is real, and with more people than you think.

Culture is everywhere - it's in your family. It's in your friend groups. It's at school. It's in the workplace.

Culture is like the wind…it's invisible, yet its effect can be seen and felt. When it is blowing in your direction, it makes for smooth sailing. When it's blowing against you, everything is more difficult. Culture includes how people feel, the work environment you are in, the feeling people get after interacting with that particular person, organization or group. Which culture feels better to you - where it's smooth sailing or when it's blowing against you?

I vividly remember a corporate role I was in where I was not a cultural fit for that organization. It was a culture of competition, jockeying for position, power and silos. That selfish culture impacted how people did, or didn't work together, and how and where people allowed cutting corners to get the best position. It impacted business operations, client interactions, and ultimately tainted the company's reputation in the community. People feel the culture when they interact with you, without even saying it.

The downstream effects of any culture impact employees, customers and the bottom line in a big way. I, without knowing it, was carrying the weight of the culture myself. "Where do you work?" "What do you do?" We all know those common questions. When you have to pause when answering those questions because of the culture in which the company is operating, it's time to take a step back and evaluate the alignment of the culture with your values.

Culture is more important than ever as people have more options than they have ever had for the workplace. In fact, in a Glassdoor survey of more than 5,000 people, 77% of respondents said they consider a company's culture before applying for a position. If you are struggling to get people to apply for positions, perhaps take a step back and listen to team member's perspectives of your culture.

In addition, 56% of respondents to the Glassdoor survey considered culture to be more important than salary. Compensation has historically been one of the front runners for people leaving organizations. In a recent roundtable I conducted, several executives shared personal examples of how they turned down roles recently even with the potential to make significantly more money. That's two of many that this is happening to. When asked why, they indicated they felt supported by their leadership, saw the vision for where they were going, and felt like they were part of the team to get them to the next level. That is culture in actionable steps.

Notice in the prior example, building that culture of collaboration isn't only on the leadership. Everyone in an organization contributes to a culture. You are either leaning into or away from a culture by the actions you take and how you make people feel as a team member, which starts with reflecting on yourself and building your self-awareness. 95% of people believe they are self-aware, when in all actuality only 15% really are. Why is that? Because people might know how they are wired, but they may not be considering the impact on others because of their actions. Have you considered your own self-awareness as it relates to the impact you may be having on others? Where are you contributing to or taking away from the culture of your organization?

Culture work is ongoing. It evolves with time and as the people in your organization evolve. One thing we all know with culture is we can control how we contribute to it. As I do my own reflections, I invite you to do the same. We are all constantly a work-in-progress, this is yet another opportunity to learn and grow.

Reflection questions to consider for your workplace, your family, or your team:

  • What is the culture currently in your team, in your family, in your organization?

  • What is your ideal culture that you want to be a part of? What does that look like and feel like?

  • What are you doing today that is already contributing to that ideal culture?

  • What are you allowing today that doesn't align with that vision?

  • What should you start doing (even small steps) to get you closer?


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This photo was captured in Minnesota along the Mississippi during a family vacation. A beautiful picture and place for reflection.


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