There Is No Formula That Guarantees a Thriving Culture Leadership has an important role in creating culture but mandates from a select few will stifle innovation.

By Marty Fukuda

entrepreneur daily

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Business culture and its acknowledgement as an important factor in corporate success have come a long way in recent years. More and more companies are paying attention to culture, seeking to improve and sell it to employees as a perk. Even so, the concept remains a mystery to most business leaders.

The larger the company, the harder it is to have a culture that permeates through the entire organization. If your culture has deteriorated to a less than satisfactory level, the more difficult it is to turn it around. Before attempting to initiate a shift in your company, you must understand that a healthy culture consists of a marriage between the vision of the leadership team and your team's personality.

Leadership's Role in Culture

The executive team sets the organization's direction for a large variety of strategic decisions -- but culture is often overlooked in the "strategic" category. For a business culture to be strong, one unifying set of commonly understood principles must flow from top to bottom. An organization with a laissez-faire approach towards culture, devoid of a strategic plan, surrenders that ability to help create a unified cultural identity.

A company with this problem likely will not have a culture deck -- a clearly stated slide deck -- which helps create both a common language and official standards the company embraces. A lack of a standardized vision generates opportunities for a variety of culture cliques within the team, each a slight variant of the other. The larger the institution and the longer this exists, the more these culture pockets grow away from one another. An organization with multiple cultural identities, in reality, doesn't have any.

When clashing sub-cultures exist, the atmosphere is ripe for office politics, in-fighting, unhealthy competition and wildly varying leadership philosophies. Devoid of a culture plan, each department develops its own attitudes and practices. Some sub-cultures may be strong, others weak, and many simply unclear. Each sub-culture hires and promotes according to their own whims and standards, creating additional opportunities for the chasm to widen.

Bottom line, culture should not be left to happen without a plan.

The team's role in culture.

When culture is governed too tightly by "corporate" it can quickly start to feel unauthentic. Rather than a true reflection of the overwhelming majority of the team, it is reduced to talking points from a few individuals far removed from true day-to-day business. Adding to the complexity of creating a strong culture is a situation where a murky one already exists.

Lack of a unified culture requires an even greater emphasis on strong employee buy-in. To give a cultural change initiative a fair chance to work, much of the existing team must believe in the new direction. The likelihood of a high acceptance rate increases in proportion to the team's level of involvement in shaping the changes. Believers in the freshened culture will support it because it is close to thoughts they were able to share.

Still, incorporating and soliciting employee feedback does not mean that every team member will "get their way." The right candidates for the new culture will appreciate that though their ideas were ultimately not incorporated, they were heard. On the other hand, individuals that don't feel comfortable in the newly branded culture may not be the right long-term fit for the team.

A rigid culture, mandated by a select few, doesn't allow for innovation to emerge from all organizational layers and levels. It eliminates room for employees to contribute in new ways beyond the original vision. Just as all businesses need to adapt over time, so does the culture. A well-defined culture's core values should not shift significantly from year to year, but they do need to gradually evolve to match an ever-changing business and team.

Just like business in general, culture is a balance between art and science. In the end, the right "magic" formula is a balance between engaging the team's opinions and the philosophical beliefs of leadership.

Marty Fukuda

Chief Operating Officer of N2 Publishing

Chicago native Marty Fukuda is the chief operating officer of N2 Publishing, overseeing operations at its corporate headquarters in Wilmington, N.C. He first joined the company as an area director in 2008 after working in the direct sales and print industries. 

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