Can you fix culture?

SledgehammerA close friend of mine who happens to be a marriage counselor once told me that one of the questions he is often asked by his clients is, “Can you fix my spouse?”

The question is typically asked after the frustrated, “level headed” and rational spouse (sense the sarcasm) reveals everything he or she puts up with in the dysfunctional marriage. The thought or question of how to “fix” someone or a group of people (as in an organization’s culture) is an interesting one because fixing implies that something is broken (as in a leaf blower that won’t start). When dealing with people, undesirable behavior, which is sought to get fixed, is typically the reaction to poor or dysfunctional environments. Employees, most of whom are on a constant quest to get their needs met – whether it is through recognition, opportunities for advancement, building relationships, social status, earning more money, etc., work just fine. It’s the leader’s job to identify those “quests” in potential employees to make sure s/he hires in line with the culture of the company. This is the most effective way to minimize conflicts of interests, values and objectives.

There are infinite amounts of research data and case studies to support the undeniable fact that the quality and effectiveness of an organization’s culture can be directly tied to the quality and effectiveness of its leaders. Leadership is as responsible for a culture of high expectations and accountability as it is for high turnover and negativity. Undesirable cultures don’t get “fixed” – cultures are what leaders must deliberately design and maintain to inspire employees to properly deliver on the unique claims of the brand. Maintaining a strong and healthy culture requires a conscious and ongoing investment of time and resources from all leaders in an organization.

Much like a marriage or any other relationship, culture (the relationships among employees and management) will deteriorate over time if effort stops pouring into it.