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What You Must Know About Your Company's Culture

Choreographing, or at least dancing in step with your organization’s culture, is critical to leadership. Move well with it, and it enables you to get great things done. Buck it or be victimized by it, and it can be your downfall.

What do I mean by "culture"? There are many definitions, but I like to think of it as the unspoken yet key rules of the road for your organization. For example, candor among colleagues is the norm in Company A, while people at Company B tend to avoid it. Creating and changing these norms is a leadership function— one which often happens more haphazardly than intentionally. Yet ask someone within the organization about the company’s culture, and they’ll typically describe it to a tee.

As a coach, I work in many different companies and industries. When I coach specific executives, I usually do some form of interview-based 360 evaluations, and, knowing how critical it is to sustainable achievement, I always ask about the company’s culture. Through these experiences I’ve identified 13 factors that people most typically note about organizational culture. While I’ve framed them as "A vs. B" below for the sake of brevity, it’s more effective to think of them on a sliding scale. For instance, “"Candor vs. directness" in an organization is never one or the other. You can think of absolute candor as a 10 and total indirectness as a 1, and imagine that each company’s culture falls somewhere between these two extremes.

My challenge to you is to assess your organization’s culture in these terms and discover what there is to learn from them:

1. Honesty among co-workers: candor vs. indirectness

2. Making significant decisions: analysis-bias vs. action-bias

3. Work ethic: intense vs. light

4. Language: what’s acceptable vs. unacceptable

5. Organization’s values: stated and adhered to vs. not stated and adhered to

6. Overall vibe: warm vs. tough; formal vs. informal

7. Individual responsibility: entitlement vs. self-starting

8. Having fun: acceptable and/or encouraged vs. not acceptable

9. Intramural teamwork: collaboration vs. competition

10. Negative consequences: done vs. avoided

11. Mutual encouragement: fostered vs. absent

12. Buy in: command vs. consensus

13. Organization’s "story": strong influence versus not

David Peck


Leadership Unleashed

Palm Springs, Calif.

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