Culture: by Design, or by Default?

“Only 3 things happen naturally in organisations: friction, confusion and underperformance. Everything else requires leadership” Peter Drucker

Mediocrity is effortless.

Excellence requires effort.  Excellence requires a culture of excellence.  In the absence of cultures of excellence I will find an excuse to let myself slip from my best.

mediocrity is effortless

Do you surround yourself with cultures of excellence?

“Great leaders create culture by design, while average leaders allow culture to evolve by default.” Mike Myatt

Personal Culture

Are you clear on your values and purpose?  If not, you are bouncing from one opportunity to the next.  You take today’s good opportunity to lay bricks rather than building the great cathedral of your life.  The clue to the existence of a clear personal culture is that you say “No” to most things.  You are not bouncing from one interesting distraction to another interesting interruption.

The ability to start things is a good step towards a positive personal culture.  The ability to finish things is the goal.  Are you better at starting things than you are at finishing things?  (I am.  It takes real effort for me to declare a project finished.)

I have my own explicit written personal culture.  I first wrote it down 7 years ago as I emerged from a very difficult time in my life:

  • 17 Daily Personal Habits for a Fulfilling Life
  • I have a much updated version that I keep with me today.  I don’t share it publicly, but have often shown it to those who have shared their own personal mission, vision and values with me.  You can find my email if it is important to you.

Family Culture

“A family culture happens whether you’re consciously creating it or not. It’s up to you and your wife to determine whether that culture is of your choosing. If you want a positive family culture, you must commit yourself to years of constant planning and teaching. A culture isn’t something that’s created overnight; it requires daily investment.” Brett McKay

The family culture is the first culture we experience.  Your earliest experience of co-existing with others was in your childhood family.  If your parents were clear about their values; the behaviours that express those values, the non-acceptable behaviours; and the rituals that keep these values visible: then you had a great start.  If your parents did not work to jointly define and live this family culture, you still had a culture…  but with unclear and unsatisfying results.

There are 3 pillars of group culture:  Values, Norms and Rituals.

Values – Each family’s set of values will be different and shaped by different education, religion and country values.  Some families see competition as positive, some see it as negative.  Some see position as giving rights (“You’ll do it because I am your father!”), some see dignity and agreements giving rights (“You’ll do it because we value kindness.”)

Norms – explicit and implicit rules of engagement.  For example, how do we resolve conflicts?  Shouting and passive-agressive stand-offs?  Calm discussion and seeking to understand the other?  How do we share chores?  Does one person work while others sit watching?  or does everybody find a way to help when clearing the table after a meal?

Rituals – routines, sanctions and celebrations.  Family meals – are they in front of TV when each individual is hungry, or does everyone gather and share?  Weekends, mornings, nights…  what are the regular routines?  Rites of Passage – what way do you celebrate the passing of the seasons, the reaching of an individual goal, the birthdays, the local and religious festivals?  There are 3 levels of ritual: Daily, Weekly and Life Changing.

These elements exist whether you chose them consciously or not.  There are no accidental cultures of excellence and meaningful community.

Resource: The Art of Manliness blog on Creating Family Culture:

Business Culture

“If I were running a company today, I would have one priority above all others: to acquire as many of the best people as I could.” Jim Collins

Business differ from families in 2 ways:

  1. they can remove individuals and
  2. they can hire pre-prepared individuals.

Jim Collins in Good to Great (my favourite business book of all time) tells us that it is all about people.

Last week in Washington I heard Dr. Evian Gordon ask “How many people does it take to ruin a team?”  Answer?  You already know…

One.

Verne Harnish told me that the important people question is “would I enthusiastically re-hire this person tomorrow?”  If there is doubt, then you must act.  Ken Blanchard told us how in 3 steps:

  1. Establish explicit goals together
  2. Publicly praise immediately when you see good behaviour
  3. Individually reprimand immediately when you see poor behaviour (“you are great, this report is not worthy of you.”)

A summary of Jim Collin’s book Good to Great is available on his website.

Community Culture

The country in which you live will have a major impact upon your implicit sense of what is right and what is wrong, the right way to behave and the right way to treat others.  Geert Hofstede told us that there are 6 major areas of difference between national cultures: it is worth knowing these 6 and where your own country is on each of these 6 in order to appreciate yourself and those who come from other national cultures.

Resource:  Geert Hofstede’s 6 Dimensions of National Culture

Rome (and Cultures): Not Built in a Day

Rome wasn’t built in a day.

Your personal, family and business cultures were not built in a day, and cannot be changed in a day.

Changing for the better is not a project.  It is what life is about.

The first step is to describe your personal culture.  The next step is to create, jointly with your family members, a description of what family means to them.

Mediocrity is the easy path.

The smarter you are, the better your reasons for being mediocre.

An inspiring life requires hard thinking, hard discipline and hard patience.  Do you have the patience?  Do you have the discipline?  Do you have the desire?

Better the poor man with dreams and desire, than the great man with no dreams and no desire.

“The significance of man is not in what he attains, but rather in what he longs to attain” Khalil Gibran, Sand and Foam

6 comments

  1. […] Culture: by Design, or by Default? (conorneill.com) […]

  2. Hi Conor. Thanks for this article. How do we implement a strong corporate culture that people will follow by heart daily?

  3. written down seems clear and easy… thanks for analyzing and giving it back with this article. lets go for it!

  4. James Kidubo · · Reply

    Thanks Conor. Your article is very enriching. It’s worth a ton of diamonds.

    1. Awesome, I’ve never seen a ton of diamonds… but sounds like a big deal 😉

  5. Claudio Moran · · Reply

    thanks Connor, I agree with you

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