Culture Is Everything

Management guru Peter Drucker knows his stuff.

I listened to a great podcast about “culture” recently.

I’m not talking about cinema, art, or the theater. I am talking about the culture we find in companies, organizations, and communities.

Author Daniel Coyle is someone I’ve long admired. His books are great. The latest is “The Culture Code: The Secrets of Highly Successful Groups.” It may be his best.

Coyle went inside Seal Team Six, Pixar and the San Antonio Spurs to discover how and why they are so successful. The secret sauce is that these organizations build a great culture by developing three essential ingredients: safety, vulnerability, and story.

A great culture starts with safety.  We must send clear and continuous signals: we share a future, and you have a voice. It’s safe to speak up. We want to hear from you, and we are listening.

Another key is vulnerability. Strong cultures don’t hide their mistakes. They share their weaknesses and work on getting better.

The third important element is story. You need a story– not a mission statement– a story that becomes your North Star. A good story is what gets you out of bed and raring to go. A good story inspires and motivates.

Those three simple concepts resonate.

If you’re lucky, you’ve experienced the magic of a great culture somewhere along the way.

Before reading Coyle’s book, I attributed great culture to luck, chemistry, or serendipity. Sometimes you click with a group of people and sometimes you don’t.  But Coyle says we can be intentional about building a great culture. It’s not luck, it’s something we can create. That’s empowering.

There are a few questions we can ask ourselves about our organization or communities to see if we are helping or hurting the creation of a strong culture.

Here are a few examples:

Sharing a new idea feels terrifying, intimidating, or exciting?

When we disagree, do we brawl, dismiss, or engage?

When our leaders screw up, they: evade it, admit it, own it?

You get the drift.

Seen through the frames of The Culture Code I began to understand the “why” behind the examples in my own life when I experienced magic at work or in the community.

For sure I/we felt safe, we were able to feel vulnerable and own our mistakes. Most of all, we felt connected to a story. One we were writing.

There’s an old saying: “culture eats strategy for breakfast.”

I have no doubt that’s true.

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