Getting Culture Right

Earlier last week, I viewed a video, a parody actually, called Office Space: Meeting The Bobs.

This video speaks to the culture that is prevalent in more workplaces than any of us would like to admit, workplaces that operate on the basis of positional power with an undercurrent of fear.  And it suggests that the primary task of many of its employees is to find ways of being paid while doing as little as possible.

While it is a clever film, it highlights very disturbing things that go on in  some organizations.  They are disturbing to me because I recognize them.  I have seen them. And, over the course of my career, I have also occasionally done some of these things  as well.

What was more disturbing were the number of comments from a myriad of viewers applauding the perspective of the young man who presented his tardiness, lack of focus and apathy as a badge of honour.  He is, to some, a kind of hero who has the temerity to expose and deride the cultural norms of his company… one guy against the Establishment uniformed in uber casual jeans, flip flops and attitude.

Organizational culture is something that, in so many companies, is ignored and yet its impact runs deep, and to me, ultimately dictates an organization’s level of  long-term success and employee contribution.

While my personal experience in the workplace, has, from time to time, been depressingly similar to the atmosphere portrayed in this video, I know there are companies out there who see the value in nurturing a different kind of culture. is one such company.  Zappos is essentially an online department store but the video does a better job of explaining who they really are:

While some of Zappos core values are pretty traditional, there are some quite unique ones like, “Create fun and a little weirdness” and “Be Humble”. What this suggests to me is that they have actually spent time thinking about what kind of culture they want to create and the kind of people who would be happy working there.  Simply put, Zappos may not be the place for everyone but they work hard at ensuring that it is the place for everyone who works there.

I think for me, the bottom line is that paying attention to the kind of culture you want to create and sustain is a critical leadership function.  Ignoring it, or paying lip service to it, creates unwanted resistance that gets in the way of healthy productivity and long-term sustainability.

Some things to think about

What kind of culture exists in your workplace?

Does it serve you or get in your way?

If it gets in your way, what kind of culture would you create if you could start again?  How might you influence change in that direction?

What else?



Filed under Building Relationships, communication, diversity, Establishing Direction, motivating & Inspiring

9 responses to “Getting Culture Right

  1. “I wouldn’t say I’m missing it, Bob” – Great post Gwyn!

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  3. Thought provoking Gwen and the videos are great. In response to “what else?” (since I don’t work for a company) here are some thoughts.

    There is a culture in every organization whether it was put there by design or not. To your point if we are truly leading we are always at work on creating a culture by design rather than living with the one we get by default (which more often than not is not what we want!)

    Why is culture ignored? Many people still believe that culture is the “soft stuff” that is hard to change because it isn’t “tangible”. Maybe it isn’t tangible like a chair or a P&L Statement, but it is most certainly observable and most definitely impacts performance.

    Your example of what makes the character in the video a kind of hero to some is a manifestation of the culture. The culture is easy to see and hear – it is alive in the actions people choose to take and not take as well as in the everyday conversations that take place publicly and privately. We either reinforce or challenge the current culture with everything we do and say.

    The question is are we courageous enough to intervene in the status quo of the culture we have to create the culture we want? While transforming the culture of an entire organization requires leadership, that leadership must come not just from the top, but from people at all levels.

  4. Gwyn Teatro

    Thanks for adding some excellent points, Susan.

    I can only agree that it takes more than just a “few at the top” to change an existing culture. I think too that it takes spending some thoughtful time getting some agreement about what kind of culture you want to create so that the intervention is purposeful.

    And that gets us back to your point about culture being ignored because it is still viewed as “soft stuff”. Perhaps a different leadership perspective (at all levels) is required before real change can happen. And you’re right, courage is often the key.

  5. Hi again Gwyn,
    Between your post and Wally Bock’s post on supervisors in crisis, I found myself thinking about people who turn down promotion. We seem prone to wonder what’s wrong with them. Isn’t the real question, what’s wrong with our organizational culture? After all, tough to want to step into your bosses shoes if you’ve just spent the past few years feeling sorry for him or her, isn’t it?


    • Gwyn Teatro

      Really good point, Landon. Indeed, why would anyone want to step up to a place where the environment seems to value punishment?
      Perhaps the answer lies with those brave folks who see the problem and are actually willing to have a stab at changing an existing culture to one that invites others to step up too.

      The bigger question might be, “Who wants to go first?”

      Thanks for coming back!!

  6. Great post, Gwyn. In the years I’ve been in business, I’ve discovered two things that help you get an idea of what the culture is for an organization. The first is a practice. Listen to the stories people tell. Do they tell hero stories or stories about dumb bosses? Do they tell stories about overcoming obstacles or being crushed by the bureaucracy? Is it stories about seizing opportunities or about unwillingness to change?

    Then you can ask one simple question: “What kind of people succeed around here?”

    • Gwyn Teatro

      I agree, and think that the power of stories is often missed.
      The answer to the question you pose is also very telling, provided of course you ask it of people who are willing to be authentic in their answers. And, if they’re not, I suppose that will tell you something too…eventually.
      Thanks for adding more “thought” to the post. I really like how succinct you are and how clearly you share your thoughts.


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