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Culture Happens

Culture happens.

It’s hard work. It doesn’t just happen.

But it does just happen, if you’re not doing the work.

For better or worse. Culture happens.


What’s your organizational culture?

It’s not what’s hanging on the wall – it’s what’s permeates the air (or your mind, if you’re honest with yourself). Your culture is what you actually have – no matter if you are intentional about it or not.

Culture defines how people work, act and interact (or don’t) at work, what they believe and how they feel about working there. Whether this aligns with what you want – or what employees want – isn’t the point. It exists and if it isn’t producing the right results and attracting, retaining, and engaging the right people, then you have a problem. 

This quote from Henry Cloud, resonates with me, summing up the effect of leadership on culture: “In the end, as a leader, you are always going to get a combination of two things: what you create and what you allow.”

The soft stuff is the hard stuff


Culture matters. Engagement matters.

They are inextricably linked and they impact your organization’s success. Josh Bersin shared in this Forbes article, that GE started a new business strategy in teaching managers how to focus, how to engage more with customers, and simplify office procedures. SAP followed suit, with a resulting 30 per cent increase in employee engagement.

People ask about culture, and are more than curious. Researchers at The Talent Board found that 41 per cent of jobseekers try to find out about company culture before they apply for a position. “What’s it like to work there?” “Hey, heard your place is hiring – is it a good place to work?” What do you hope your organization’s employees will answer?

“Culture is not a surface phenomenon, it is our very core.” – Edgar Schein

At Smart, Savvy + Associates, I ask our team each quarter: “How likely are you to recommend us to friends or colleagues as a place to work?” This engagement measuring stick is important to me, as the leader of a small team. Answered anonymously as part of a weekly team survey system, I’m looking for signs that people think highly of their workplace, are feeling “meh” about their day-to-day work life, or have made the decision to move on.

Taking stock of employees’ likelihood to recommend isn’t the fluffy soft stuff. In regularly checking in on the team’s engagement level with Smart and Savvy, I’m validating my own perceptions of our office life, and comparing with the honesty of fresh research. Workplace culture is like marketing and human resources collaborating on a project: similar to company branding, culture can be considered the internal brand. Research that fills in the gaps between what we hope to be, and what everyone else thinks we are.


Who do you think you are?

How do your organization’s employees experience you – and are the results what you want? Developing culture is challenging work, just like developing a brand. It starts with doing the legwork: identifying the attitudes, values, and behaviours your organization wants – and needs – to carry out your business strategy and successfully meet goals and targets.

Identifying true values vs. what people think you want to hear is important to developing a “walk the talk” culture. Learn what’s working and what’s causing issues. Ask people about what they enjoy about their workplace: how does the day-to-day environment contribute to their professional fulfillment / growth, and to their personal sense of joy and accomplishment. On the flipside, ask what causes the majority (or the most significant) frustrations at work.

Our Recruiting Team talks to a lot of people who are considering a change of role. We ask these marketing, communications and sales professionals, early in our discussions, what they’re looking for in a workplace culture. We hear a lot about work / life balance, fun, friendly, collaborative, freedom to do your job. There are similarities – most of us like a friendly workplace – but there is no “one” best culture. People get satisfaction and fulfillment from different things.

We also talk to our clients looking to add to their teams, and we ask them about their workplace culture. Fun and collaborative are often on their list too (does anyone want to admit to not being fun?), along with work hard / play hard, results driven and goal oriented. It’s not a test of a good employer / bad employer, but important to understand the beliefs and values system to support hiring the best candidate for the job, both skill-set and culture fit.

"A company's culture is its personality; shaped by shared values and behaviours,” says Dale Lutz, co-CEO at Safe Software. “Team culture is central to our success. We all see ourselves as part of the team."

For both jobseekers and employers, finding that magical fit comes from complete honesty with oneself, and being willing to share those insights. Fit happens when true values are aligned, and demonstrated on a daily basis.


Finding your one true culture

We’ve all heard the blind date horror stories where promises didn’t meet reality, whether by purposeful intention or honest lack of self-awareness. Unfortunately, sometimes we see this same “failure to click” in recruitment. A lack of awareness or dishonesty about your organization’s culture will lead to bad hires. Not bad people – but people who don’t fit in, and therefore, don’t engage with your business and its mission.

Our “culture alert” flags go up when a client can’t tell us their culture, or it’s vague – “we’re a friendly place, the people are nice, we do birthdays and such…” Just like dating, recruiting is a two-way street – only a mutual fit works in the long run, no matter how hard either party tries to like the other one, if they’re just not that into you.

Culture is intentional. Leaders need to be able to articulate what the culture is, what it isn’t – and where it’s headed. Because culture happens, and it’s taking you with it.

“Corporate culture doesn’t happen by accident and if it does, you’re taking a risk.” – Monique Winston, CEO OPTIMA Lender Services



thepeter.jpgPeter Reek is the Founder and President of Smart, Savvy + Associates. We find high-calibre marketing, communications, creative and sales professionals with proven track records and in-demand skills for companies who need them, across the Pacific Northwest and in Toronto. We also provide leadership and training development programs for workplace programs, corporate retreats and individual growth opportunities. Contact Peter to discuss your organization's training needs.


Peter Reek

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