CEO Coaching: Is Your Culture Going to Hell?

I have a growing sense of alarm that the workplace solutions being established in many companies, perhaps yours, lack complete thoughts around the unintended consequences. (See Exhibit 1, Exhibit 2, Exhibit 3, Exhibit 4 and Exhibit 5 for starters.)

My greatest concern for burdened CEOs — who’ve had to improvise a lot over the past few years — is that their culture is eroding, or slowly shifting to something they won’t want and may not allow them to continue their success. (By the way, my definition of culture is “the sum of the behaviors that you reward and accept.”) Culture is only one problem that ensues when relationships and face-to-face interaction are disrupted. Values are harder to enforce, alignment is tougher to achieve, mentoring isn’t easy, building trust and confidence among teammates is challenging, and onboarding is tricky. I could go on, but that’ll do.

So back to culture. It begs a few questions. Do we have one? Do we need one? Is the culture we want the one we have? How can I determine what ours is? How do we build or reinforce the one we want?

Let’s take them in that order.

Do we have one? If you have at least one employee, you have one — you just may not have the one you want or know what it is.

Do we need one? Well, you have one and you can’t eliminate it, so the question is irrelevant. The real question is …

Is the culture we want the one we have? To answer this, you need to do two things: (1) Identify (in writing) the one you want — one that supports your values and allows you to execute your strategy, and (2) identify your current culture.

How can I determine what ours is? If you’re positive that people will tell you the truth (they won’t), you can do this yourself. Otherwise, engage me (or someone like me) to help. I will, however, share my secret methodology. I meet one-on-one with a broad cross section of employees, gain their trust, and ask two questions: (1) Who are the heroes around here and why? (2) How do you get in trouble around here? (OK, that’s a slight oversimplification, because I have some warm-up and follow-up questions. However, when asked of a cross section of employees, the answers will identify your current culture.)

How do we build or reinforce the one we want? You do so with a detailed plan, focused and continuous communication from the top, programs and practices to support the culture you defined, and rewarding the desired behaviors while eradicating the undesired ones. 

Simple, right? It is! It’s also hard to do and requires a great deal of passion and resilience from senior management (starting with the CEO). Or you could just see what happens. … Good luck with that!