How to Build a Bulletproof Culture

I believe that the leader of an organization must incessantly tinker with culture! This is not an area that can ever slip to the background of a leader’s mind. Culture is supremely important, because everything that happens in an organization is influenced by or will influence the culture of the organization.

As an organization becomes larger, it becomes more difficult to develop a defining culture. The more complex an organization becomes, the more difficult it is to drive culture.  Culture drives strategy. Culture defines success and failure. Culture determines what is rewarded or punished. Ultimately, everything is influenced by culture.  Culture is different in every organization. A church’s culture will be different from a consumer-driven business. Even within industries, culture is different from one organization to another. For example, two churches on opposite sides of the street from one another and committed to the same Bible, will almost always have two different cultures.

If you find yourself the leader of an organization, it doesn’t matter how large or how small, you should be thinking about culture right now. However, the challenge for leaders is how to assess and steer the culture of an organization. There are volumes of books written on this subject. I believe every leader should continue to grow in this area. Here are my thoughts on how to build a bulletproof culture in an organization.

Values-driven culture

Values will always drive culture! And culture must drive values.  What is important to the organization will ultimately influence the culture. The challenge for leaders is to ensure that what’s most important is getting most of the time and energy in an organization. In other words, leaders must constantly be on guard about how well the mission and resources of an organization align with its stated values.

Individual values

When interviewing for a vacancy, hire someone based on his or her values!  Competence can never overcome a values deficiency. Someone who doesn’t value what the organization values ultimately will become a bad fit over time. Any leader will tell you of the pain and money involved in letting someone go over character or chemistry issues.  An organization consists of individuals. When the individual’s values align with the organization’s values, there is great unity. This unity can quickly become productivity. However, when the individual’s values don’t line up with the organization’s values, productivity and effectiveness will always suffer. Don’t fall into the trap of believing that you can change somebody’s values. Hire somebody who fits the organization’s values.

Organizational values

Since all organizations consist of a group of individuals, the values of the organization must be clearly stated and compelling. There is simply never a time when a leader can stop talking about values. Leaders at all levels must continue to ensure that the individual’s values and the organization’s values align. When an organization values honesty, the individual members of the organization must display this value in their personal and professional lives. If this doesn’t happen, honesty will start to slip throughout in organization.  It’s very dangerous how subtly an organization’s values can shift over time. This is why a leader can never take their eyes off of the way an organization executes its values.

Culture-driven performance

I believe that culture will always drive performance. When an organization understands and promotes its values well, the culture of an organization becomes solid. Culture is the foundation on which everything else in the organization must be built. Like a structure built on a foundation, no amount of engineering can keep the structure strong when the foundation is weak. However, when the foundation is strong, the structure of the building becomes strong as well.

If you want to see strong growth or strong performance in 2019, pay close attention to the culture of the organization throughout this year. There are two main ways to measure the impact of culture in an organization. I believe both of these measures will create performance in any organization.

Measuring cultural impact

How far the culture has influenced the organization is one question a leader must assess.  Basically, the leader is asking if there are still areas of the organization that have not been impacted by culture.  Until every person in every department of the organization has been impacted by the culture, the culture hasn’t spread far enough. An organization that hits the “sweet spot” is one in which every person in every department understands and is executing the culture. On the battlefield, this term is called “unity of effort”. You can’t win a war without unity of effort. If you want your organization to hit the sweet spot, there must be unity of effort.  Culture creates unity of effort.

Culture must not only be wide in an organization, it must also go deep. Since culture is values driven, it should go deep into the heart of every person in the organization. This is a lofty goal, but one in which a leader should continue to strive toward. An organization will make its biggest gains when every person believes in the culture at the heart level.

Letting culture drive the future

The reason why I believe leaders should constantly tinker with culture is because culture will ultimately define the future of the organization. I believe that the future isn’t left up to chance. What you value today will inevitably influence your future. What your culture rewards today will become the goals for people tomorrow. What your culture punishes today will become the actions that people will avoid tomorrow.

Culture and performance are married to one another, and it’s impossible for these two to divorce. Because culture is married to performance, culture will also determine the future of an organization. Don’t ignore culture if you are a leader at any level in your organization.  Keep it in front of the people you lead. Keep talking about culture constantly. Keep assessing how well your values are influencing your culture and how well your culture is impacting the values of your organization. Then sit back and watch how far your organization will go when it starts to hit its cultural sweet spot.

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