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Culture...you have one, is it the right one?

Updated: Jul 5


There is much being written and discussed regarding a team or company culture lately. There is an old quote by Peter Drucker that “Culture Eats Strategy for Breakfast.” in my years of sales and sales leadership roles, I am finding this true more so today. The problem arises when companies don’t get it.


Here is an example…In the pandemic a company keeps all the team employed. Full Salary, full benefits, pays a small bonus (they couldn’t get out and sell) for Q2. Things start to open up in Q3 and Q4. Q1 of 2021 begins with some pretty high turnover and they are SHOCKED!!!! But our culture?…look what we did for them? How can they be so ungrateful and leave?


This is where companies confuse doing the right thing – event-driven, short term- with building a culture. Of course, it was amazing that the company did what they did during the pandemic!!! They did put people first! Bravo!!! But this one step does not a culture make.


What they missed was solving the underlying issues that had developed into a groundswell that lead to the turnover. The question then becomes, if they would have had the right culture, would they have known/cared about these issues and been able to save some talent from leaving? Or as in many companies do they just patently say that all loss is “non-regrettable” to cover their foibles?


So you have a culture whether you know it or not, but is it the right one? What this company did during the pandemic believed it defined their culture, but they were mistaken. Their culture suffered from a lack of trust, transparency, changing with the times in their processes, sales managers who have never been trained in culture and leadership and lack of tools necessary to do the job.


Can their or your culture be “fixed”? You bet, but it is a process and starts at the top. Senior leadership has to admit there is a problem and have an open dialogue that is safe and have an open mind that this isn’t just “warm fuzzy stuff”. We are seeing a lot of band-aid approaches today…Let’s start a program on Inclusion and Diversity! Let’s start a Women in Leadership program! These steps are significant and are a start, but only part of the story. Building these programs is outstanding, but if the actions of the company don’t support them (not filling board seats with women or minorities) then it is just virtue signaling.


So how do you create or recreate a culture? There are people and companies much more skilled at this than me. I can only tell you what has worked for my teams.

  • Invest: Invest in your team both monetarily and emotionally. Understand that you are not an individual contributor and your success is directly tied to theirs. If you help them succeed, you will too. You might be thinking…duh…but you would be shocked how many managers and leaders don’t get this. Invest in them personally as well for a greater understanding of what motivates and inspires them. When you earn a bonus as a result of the work THEY did, do something to give back to THEM.


  • Communicate Expectations: from the outset, be clear and exact. Also, let them voice what they expect from you and deliver! Throw out the scripts and canned talks! Teams see right through this and not only do they not sound authentic, they aren’t.


  • Trust: Put trust in them from the get-go. Let them know if they break that trust, game over but they have it from the start! Somebody hired them because they are reasonably intelligent adults, trust they will be that. Transparency is also a critical factor. You do need to be mindful of sharing appropriately, but again, they are adults, let them know the good and the bad.


  • Fun: The fact that some managers have to be reminded of this is surprising. Are you a manager or a leader…learn the difference.

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