5 Mistakes That Will Kill Your Culture – Week 3

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Your culture will be your catalyst to outperform the competition and provide the type of service that creates loyalty. It’s what takes you from success to significance in the eyes of your customers.  This week we are continuing to break down the 5 Mistakes That Will Kill Your Culture. They are:

  1. Hire For the Wrong Reasons
  2. Focus on Tasks and Not Purpose
  3. Preach Values That You Don’t Live
  4. Incentivize the Wrong Activities
  5. Not Investing in Your Culture

Last week we took a deeper look at the mistake of focusing on the tasks and not purpose – click to see last weeks post – this week we will look at another culture killer – preaching values that you don’t live.

As important as it is for leaders to preach the values and beliefs of the group, it is paramount that they live those values and beliefs themselves. One of the fastest ways to kill a culture is for members of the organization to see a leader break the rules or not follow the values that they profess. It erodes trust, kills partnership and creates a free-for-all mentality that destroys morale and teamwork. On the flip side, when leaders live the values and beliefs they profess, people adopt those values as well.

After a recent speech on partner leadership I received this email:

Truly enjoyed your talk yesterday at C&A in Omaha. I am fortunate to work for a company whose leadership has always practiced partnership and I have a perfect example to share. Feel free to talk about it as you wish!

As a Midwest commercial general contractor and contract furniture dealer, we were hit hard by the recession of 2008/2009. Clients pushed work back, some clients stopped all work, new business was non-existent … you remember the drill. We hunkered down, focused on our existing clients and didn’t lay anyone off. 

By April 2010, with little work in sight, and not wanting to go into debt, our leadership team (12 of us) decided to implement an across the board 10% salary cut for all salaried employees (about 50 people out of 100 employees). Hourly wages were not cut. As the year progressed, work picked up and things looked brighter. Employees felt that we would gain back that 10% before long. 

Here’s what happened on December 10th of that year – eight months later: Our owners called an emergency meeting of all salaried personnel, they thanked us for the generous “loan,” reinstituted our original salaries, and (are you ready?) PAID US BACK WITH INTEREST! Two weeks before Christmas. Amazing.

Now that’s leadership as partnership. Did I say I was fortunate to work here? 25 years with the same Company (at least ten different roles), and we have many folks who have been here 10, 15, 20 years.

When I was interviewing Brian Wheeler, the founder of Tijuana Flats Burrito Company, I love what he had to say about leaders embodying the values they profess. He said, “There isn’t fake culture – you have to feel it inside your soul. You have to believe. Do you hurt when they hurt and are you happy when they are happy? If so – your team will follow you anywhere.”

As leaders, we need to be the culture that we profess. We need to live it in every way and then we have the authority to preach it to our people.

I’ve found that one of the best ways for leaders to reinforce what they stand for and what they truly believe is through storytelling, but it can also be a powerful way to spread company culture. The stories you tell reinforce the values that are important. For example, if your organization has a culture that stresses growth from within, telling stories about a supervisor who started out as a janitor, or a CFO whose first position was as an intern in the accounting department, is an excellent way to reinforce that company value. Such stories become part of the company lore and authenticate the culture you are trying to keep and protect.

I encourage leaders to pay attention to the culture stories they are telling, making sure that they fall in line with core values. But above all: Storydoing is more important than storytelling. Leadership is spelled

E X A M P L E.


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