Changing your assumptions about culture refinement

culture refinement

What are your beliefs about organizational culture? Some of your beliefs might inhibit your willingness and ability to proactively improve the quality of your work culture.

New clients ask me very similar questions when I start guiding them along the path to a powerful, positive, productive culture. Some of your beliefs might be challenged by my answers! Here are those questions and my responses.

How exactly is organizational culture linked to organizational performance?
Culture drives everything that happens in organizations, good or bad. If a work culture requires that everyone be treated with trust, respect, and dignity – and that treatment occurs – players apply their passions and skills in service to the organization’s purpose and goals. That boosts performance and profits. Conversely, if a work culture allows everyone to be discounted, dismissed, and demeaned, that will quash passion and skill application. Results and profits suffer.

We have a mission statement that outlines the culture we want. Most of the time those key elements are ignored. How can leaders reinforce the culture we want?
I coach leaders to formalize their desired culture with an organizational constitution. That constitution includes the organization’s present-day servant purpose (who does the team/company serve, and to what end – besides making money), values and behaviors, strategies, and goals. Stating the desired culture does not make it an immediate reality, though!

Invest equal time and energy managing the quality of your work culture as you do managing the results it produces.

~S. Chris Edmonds

Once the constitution is formalized, leaders must demonstrate the team/company’s servant purpose and valued behaviors in every interaction. They must embrace the desired culture and be role models of it, every day. If leaders don’t live the desired culture, no one else will embrace it, either.

Is an effective culture always fun?
It doesn’t have to be fun, but powerful, positive, productive cultures almost always are! When players can trust that their bosses and peers have their best interests at heart, they can relax. They don’t have to be “on guard,” awaiting demeaning, dismissive comments or actions.

Players can be fully present, fully their unique selves, and know that they will be valued and honored, daily. That’s a fun environment to be in.

How does a powerful, positive, productive culture reinforce the bottom line?

The benefits to creating an organizational constitution then living those agreements are impressive. I can prove it. My clients enjoy employee engagement gains of 40 percent or more, customer service improvements of 40 percent or more, and boosts to performance and profits by 35 percent or more, all within 18 months of aligning practices and behavior to your desired culture.

How can we ensure we hire new employees that fit the culture we want?
Your desired culture is placed at risk with every hire!

Why? Because most organizations hire for skills and accomplishments. They don’t examine – effectively and thoroughly – the candidate’s work ethic or values, or the candidate’s fit in your desired culture.

All employees are motivated – they just may not be motivated to do things you need done or do them the way you need them done!

With an organizational constitution in place, you can hire for values and citizenship FIRST and skills second. If you find players who share your team or company values and behaviors, that’s a player you want to bring into your organization.

We have a unique work environment today. How do we decide what culture elements to keep as we refine our culture moving forward?
Every company has a unique way of operating. The problem is that the way they operate may not be consistent or effective. For example, a company may promote a value of respect – yet the company tolerates an aggressive boss that throws tantrums, throws papers, and screams at employees. That way of operating is not going to create a fun, vibrant, positive workplace.

The single most important action that leaders can take to increase the quality of their work environment is to make values as important as results. They do that by deciding what values they’d like to be lived in their culture, then defining those values in behavioral terms, then living those behaviors, coaching those behaviors, etc.

How can we best diagnose our current culture?
Three key questions will help a company gauge the effectiveness of their current operating culture. First, how engaged are employees? Second, what is the quality of the customer experience? Third, how well are we performing?

Most companies only measure the third question. They focus exclusively on results. To improve the quality of their work environment, leaders must invest time, energy, focus, and attention on their culture.

With some clients, I use Human Synergistics’ valid and reliable culture assessments – the Organizational Culture Inventory® (OCI®)and the Organizational Effectiveness Inventory® (OEI). These tools use a unique circumplex to give clients a thorough understanding of their current culture, their ideal culture, the factors that influence both, and the critical gaps that exist.

There are a number of validated engagement assessments available – don’t craft your own. Find and use one that has been proven over time. In addition, ask questions about how bosses treat employees daily. Most clients find huge variations in the quality of daily work relationships.

Assess the customer experience frequently. Find a validated, reliable customer survey – use it to learn what’s working and what isn’t.

From a performance perspective, most of the organizations I work with are not consistently performing at their highest levels. Mistakes happen frequently. Quality standards are missed. Goals are set but there are few (if any) consequences when teams or players miss those targets. Consistent performance requires clear goals and accountability for delivering on those goals.

What companies today have great corporate cultures we should aspire to?
WD40 Company, Ritz-Carlton hotels, Madwire, and the Luck Companies all have powerful, positive, productive cultures. They do that by making values as important as results – by not tolerating bad behavior from leaders or team members at any time. They measure, monitor, and reward both valued behaviors and performance. They require leaders to be servant leaders, meeting the unique needs of employees during their fast-paced day.

Culture matters. It drives everything that happens in your organization. Invest equal time and energy managing the quality of your work culture as you do managing the results it produces.

Questions to ponder: How clear are your company’s values – are they defined in observable, tangible, measurable terms? Are bad behaviors tolerated in your company or are they addressed promptly (and quashed)? What unique elements of your company culture deserve to be maintained moving forward? What oddities of your company culture deserve to be left behind?

I look forward to your thoughts and comments below.

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S. Chris Edmonds is the founder and CEO of The Purposeful Culture Group. After a 15-year career leading and managing teams, Chris began his consulting company in 1990. Since 1995, Chris has also served as a senior consultant with The Ken Blanchard Companies. Chris provides high-impact keynotes, executive briefings, and executive consulting. He is the author or co-author of seven books, including Leading At A Higher Level with Ken Blanchard. Learn how to craft workplace inspiration with an organizational constitution in Chris’ latest book, The Culture Engine: A Framework for Driving Results, Inspiring Your Employees, and Transforming Your Workplace. His blog, podcasts, assessments, research, and videos can be found at

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

  • Norman Jentner

    People’s assumptions (and implicit fears) can get in their own way, can’t they? What I appreciate about your post and links, Chris, are the explicit and implicit understandings you shared with us. These are not simply “good ideas,” but are based upon well-rounded UNDERSTANDINGS, EXPERIENCES, RESULTS, and DATA. I appreciate your pointing out the importance of understanding people’s (employees’ and customers’) EXPERIENCES in addition to simply “results.” I agree that your preference to sometimes use Human Synergistics’ Organizational Culture Inventory enables you to ENSURE that you enable people to focus on their BEHAVIOR and EXPERIENCES with each other, in a variety of important contexts. Thank you for sharing your important work with us, Chris, and your imperative that people take effective ACTION to address many of today’s challenges. My best. ~Norman Jentner (

    • S. Chris Edmonds

      Thank you, Norman, for your insights and kind words!