Why It Is So Important To Be Intentional About Culture

Healthy, vital cultures—where people find value in their work, are able to build relationships with their peers, trust their leadership, and believe in what they are working for—are crucial for sustaining a business. It enhances morale, retention, productivity, and the bottom line. It is essential for attracting talent. It’s critical for scaling and growth.

We know that companies paying attention to their culture perform better in key metrics than those that do not. A high percentage of the most successful companies have historically prioritized it. In the years between 2014 and 2019, 70% of the 30 top-performing US companies (based on profit in each of 10 key sectors) were either making bold moves or had plans to reshape their culture. 

While it was difficult for some organizations to quantify the value of an investment in culture before the pandemic, prompting many to look the other way, the new reality created by COVID quarantines and the Great Resignation makes the case for action on culture very clear: Many companies that were ignoring or underinvesting in culture in advance of the pandemic are taking the hardest hits now. 

With the challenges that the global crisis created and that continue to unfold, a stronger desire for environments where people are respected, valued, and feel energized by purpose has emerged. People are not only requiring a different quality of life marked by psychological safety, authenticity, and purpose, they are also extending this need to their workplace. 

Is “the way we do things around here” intentional or by default?

Culture can be defined in short as “the way we do things around here.” Comprising the ways that organizational practices and processes have settled into norms, it creates social cohesion and a shared identity across distance, however remote. Culture encompasses a number of elements:

  • What behaviors are accepted and rewarded? 
  • What do people believe and feel about what they are doing? 
  • What stories do they hear from leaders and, more importantly, tell each other about their organization’s origins, growth, and purpose? 
  • How do people experience safety?
  • What do the artifacts of the organization’s culture mean beyond brand?

An organization’s system of values, beliefs, symbols, and institutional practices often emerges by default. It is an artifact of its origins, often the watermark of a dynamic founding personality. But what can work through sheer charisma and power of will at the start can easily undermine the ability to scale. An organization without a strong culture bookmarked by more than a founder’s vision can quickly find itself stuck, mired in chaos, or suddenly adrift from its mission with no true north in sight.

Worse, a culture that has not matured around intentional values and norms backed by the how and not just the measure of success can become competitive, corrosive, and unhealthy. As the culture flounders without the founder, inclusivity and belonging are overridden by a constant drive for more productivity without an understanding of how to empower. Diversity, inclusion, and belonging are left in the wake, ultimately leading to the loss of your best talent, or worse, disgruntled employees who create unhappy customers. 

Culture-by-default rather than design isn’t sustainable.
Where does your culture have your organization headed?

Are the practices, processes, and norms within your organization truly serving the organization’s mission? Do they serve or hinder the priority of diversity, equity, and belonging? Is your organization meeting the changing needs and circumstances of the world? Is what your organization stands for reflected in everyday practice? Are its people thriving?

A positive, forward-looking workplace culture can be built on the best of the past, while creating a place where employees can thrive. It will take work to clarify the values—and the actions to live those values—that will be at the heart of your culture. It takes even more work to embed the change by rewarding actions and behaviors that make the culture real. But having a culture that you can be proud of is worth the effort. It is arguably the best investment you can make for the future of your organization.

To benchmark your culture and help you guide transformation toward health, sustainability, and greater outcomes, we administer the most proven and effective measurement available: The Denison Culture Survey.

The Denison model examines your culture in the four key areas demonstrated to drive high performance.

  • Mission
  • Adaptability
  • Involvement
  • Consistency

The Denison Culture Survey measures employee perceptions about these key drivers, creating a benchmark of where your organization stands now and how it compares to thousands of other organizations whose employees have taken the same survey. The survey surpasses other available culture assessment tools because it measures behaviors as well as employee perceptions about alignment with your company’s core values. It provides the data necessary to identify areas of cultural strength and weakness, measures cultural improvement over time, and substantiates the value of your firm’s investment in cultural transformation. 

With rich and complex data visualizations, you’ll be able to quickly identify areas in need of improvement and prioritize your culture investment.

Hear New Legends co-founder Leb Tannenbaum elaborate on culture’s key drivers in
this episode of the Frustrated CEO podcast with Dan Denison.

The transformation into healthy, sustainable culture happens in collaboration, through humble inquiry and deep listening.

We are committed to listening, and to asking questions in order to listen more deeply. The form of inquiry that we take is indebted to Edgar Schein’s Humble Inquiry. As a process of discovery that is collective and collaborative, it builds awareness, confidence, and appreciation. 

The culture lives in the conversation. So we invite people to share the stories that, to them, typify the organization, in extraordinary or everyday moments. We’ll attend to what people express or reserve when there is conflict and challenge. We facilitate acknowledgment and appreciation when someone is making a meaningful difference. We listen for ways leaders create safety so that others can take risks. When leaders give feedback and make necessary course corrections, are they doing so without blaming, and with clarity about the dynamic running throughout the system? We also listen for the joy of teamwork and collaboration, for celebration in completing something greater than a single person could have accomplished on their own. The process of reflecting and sharing, the insights that emerge, is a key step in building these skills in your teams and reinforcing your high-performance culture.

Meaningful culture lives in relationships and thrives in collaboration, and the steps to transform it must be safe, generative, and collaborative as well. Learn about the role leaders must play and the approach they must consistently model in support of the process.

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