The concept of culture at work is hard to define but it’s unmistakably palpable when you walk into a workplace. Think the difference between a medical practice, a construction company, and a coffee shop. Three local businesses. Three totally different experience based on the culture of the place.

Shelley Smith is a Culture Curator. Her passion is helping business owners and executives find the leaks that cost people to leave and money to flow out. Shelley is one of my best business pals. We have served together on the board of our local SHRM chapter. We have shared clients and ideas. She has a ready smile and a sharp eye for improving business performance. She shares with us a practical exercise to help us grasp what culture means and what it looks like in your organization.


Culture, Culture, Culture – To paraphrase Jan Brady of The Brady Bunch, culture is like Marcia. “All day long at school I hear how great Marcia is at this or how wonderful Marcia did that! Marcia, Marcia, Marcia!”  Culture is this nagging word but an elusive concept.

Who has time for culture?

I have heard from many small business owners. They care but how can they find time to worry about the organization’s culture when they are wearing multiple hats? Same with the staff who are constantly shifting gears at a moment’s notice.

What makes the biggest impact on your profit? That should be your focus, shouldn’t it?

The answer to this question is really, really, really simple. BUT, do you want to hear it and believe it? The single element that has the biggest impact on profitability is your workforce, your employees from the office manager to your second in charge and everyone in between.

What is culture?

Your culture is defined by the group of people working within and or associated directly with your organization. Their individual values, behaviors, and skills come together in one puzzle, one picture. When the picture is clearly aligned to your company mission, vision, and values, it is a powerful culture. When the picture is fuzzy or going in multiple directions, it creates dysfunctions.

Why does it matter?

Culture matters because it has a direct impact on your economic performance. The right culture aligned with your staff and your goals can and will improve your bottom line. Overall productivity rests in the capacity of you people and their overall engagement and satisfaction at work.

How do you evolve your company culture?

If change is needed, it takes time. It takes work to bring clarity and direction to your desired and envisioned culture. There isn’t a magic wand you can wave or just copy what others are doing. Every workplace has a different culture.

Application – Discover your culture

Follow these steps to discover where you are and how to start on culture.

Step One: Quick description exercise

  • Hand out blank 3×5 index cards to each of your team members.
  • Ask them to write down anonymously 3 to 7 bullet points to describe the companies culture. Don’t let them over think it, just write them down. Ask them to include the good, bad and the indifferent – you want to know their perceptions.
  • Collect the cards. Look for similarities and differences in the description of the culture.
  • Consider where they match and where they differ from how you envisioned your company culture to be described.

This quick exercise is always revealing. Note this is a 5-minute exercise with your team. You can share in another 5 minutes or type up the words in a word cloud for example to share.

Step 2: Pivot the culture

Now it’s time for strategies around the needed pivots in your culture. Ask yourself:

    1. Where are we now based on exercise 1 and 2?
    2. Where do you want/need to go?
    3. How far are we aligned or misaligned to the company mission, vision, values?
    4. What does it mean?
    5. How did we get there?
    6. What is the root of this misalignment? Look for answers in areas such as:
      1. Expectations
      2. Recruitment
      3. Onboarding of new staff
      4. Development
      5. Communication
      6. And the list goes on

I hope this brings some “ah-ha” moments and gets you thinking about culture as an investment in your organization.

For more information on Culture Inquiry, please reach out to Shelley Smith directly or visit her website. Remember #CultureMatters