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How can you create the culture you want?

How can you create the culture you want?


If you want to proactively create a culture within your organization, this may be the most important thing you read today.

I recently read a Harvard Business Review article entitled “Culture is not the culprit.” It caused me to really challenge my thinking on the subject.

Richard Clark, CEO of Merck, once said, “The fact is, culture eats strategy for lunch. You can have a good strategy in place, but if you don’t have the culture and the enabling systems that allow you to successfully implement that strategy, the culture of the organization will defeat the strategy.”

The question is not whether culture is important – it is. The question is how can you create the culture you want.  I have personally helped dozens of leaders change the culture of their respective teams and learned these three truths along the way:

  1. Creating culture requires an intentional plan
  2. People do what they see
  3. Systems are critical

Creating culture requires an intentional plan

A positive, accountable and empowering culture doesn’t just happen.  It is easier to develop when an organization is new and exciting.  But it is difficult to protect as the organization grows beyond 100 employees, creates multiple locations, experiences challenges or brings in senior leaders from the outside who bring their own cultural norms.  The most senior leader must be intentional about preserving the desired culture.  If the culture has already shifted, it will take a strong intentional plan and tireless effort from senior leadership to create a new one.

Start by identifying where you are today.  Write down what is good about your culture, and what could improve.  Ask your team how they would define your culture.

Next, identify what kind of culture you and your team want in your organization.  What behaviors and attitudes are important?  This process can take a while to develop – be thorough and keep digging deeper to uncover what’s most important.

Now compare the two lists.  If there is a gap between the culture you have and the culture you want, create a vision for change.  Develop an intentional plan to shift the behaviors and attitudes to align with your desired culture.

 People do what people see

Creating a culture requires more than saying the right things or publishing a list of values.  Don’t misunderstand – it’s important to communicate your values and desired behaviors. But culture is created by modeling the desired values and behaviors.

If accountability is important to your culture, then you – as a leader – have to be accountable.  Don’t make excuses. Follow through on your commitments.

If you want your culture to be fun, then be fun.  If you want teamwork, then demonstrate teamwork.

It sounds obvious, but many managers have a hard time seeing how their actions impact the behavior of others.  Once you have defined the behaviors in your desired culture, live those behaviors daily.  Periodically seek feedback from others to determine how well you are doing day-to-day.

Systems are critical

The HBR article says, “Reworking fundamental practices will inevitably lead to some new values and behaviors.”  Take a look at how often, and to what intensity, you focus on desired behaviors.

For example, if you want a client-centric culture, start asking your team to present in your weekly team meeting about what they did to create WOW client experiences last week.  If you’re building a culture of accountability, ask them to present three things they accomplished last week and what their priorities are for this week.  If team spirit is on your list of culture behaviors, ask your team members to present each week on how they helped a peer.   Doing this causes each person to plan and focus on the behaviors you want to build on because they know you’re going to ask.

Systems create habits and habits create behaviors and behaviors create culture.  Put the systems into place to create the culture you want.

Shaping culture is not easy, it’s not fast and it’s not a one-time fix.  It requires intentionality and commitment.  But it can be done.  Which one of these three ideas will you implement this week to start creating the culture you want?


If you’re ready to create a culture of performance, learn more about our Building Leadership Momentum through Leadership Rhythm workshop. Leaders must constantly focus on maximizing resources and inspiring their team to reach its true potential.  They do this by creating an appropriate structure of rhythm, cadence and measurement that inspires their team members to set higher standards of performance and willing accept increased responsibility and accountability. If you’re ready to take your team to the next level, find out how to bring this powerful workshop to your organization.

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