I’ve had a lot of conversations lately about organizational culture and vision. [To me, vision is where the team is going and culture is the behavior, beliefs, and norms that get it there.] One point of dispute deals with when the new leader of an organization (say, an incoming commander) should begin shaping the culture and setting the vision.
Some feel that culture-setting is a ‘Day 1 activity’ that centers on the leader’s influence…“I’m the new leader and here’s how I want things to run.” Others feel it is haphazard and potentially disastrous to join a team and immediately set it off on a new course…“I need to understand the culture before I know what to change.”
Regardless of your personal preference, it’s tough to argue that leaders should ignore culture and vision. Even a leader who immediately drives vision and culture will have to assess whether or not the team is meeting the intent. Identifying and understanding culture, for all leaders, is a critical task.
Identifying the Culture
What you’ll find below is a list of questions to ask yourself and your team to identify the culture of your organization. Maybe you’re the leader who is more comfortable getting to know the team before making changes: “What are its strengths? What motivates people? Where are we weakest?”
Or maybe you’ve already issued guidance about vision and culture and you want to see how it has resonated with the formation: “Did they really understand what I told them? Is the lowest level leader following the vision? Has the culture drifted from what it was a year ago?”
These questions will help you get to the bottom line. And although it’s tempting to dismiss them as innocuous, I encourage you not to. Ask around your organization and listen to the insight you get from a question like, “What are we for?” I think the answers will surprise you and bring clarity to culture.
- What is our core purpose? What are we for? (This points to The Why.)
- What is our mission? What are we purposed to do? (This points to The What.)
- What are we NOT purposed to do? Are we engaged in areas we shouldn’t be?
- What priorities affect our mission? Our culture? Is there “guidance from higher” that drives our behavior on a routine basis? Do we engage that guidance frequently enough for it to matter?
- What is this team’s most important asset? How do we protect it?
- Where do we want the team to be in one year? Or five? Is that vision consistent among leaders and followers at every echelon?
- What behavior do we espouse?
- What does good performance look like? How do we reward it?
- What behavior is unacceptable? What is a “fireable offense?”
- What personal behavior traits make us successful?
- What interpersonal behaviors make us successful?
- What behavior compromises our effectiveness?
- How do we respond to failure?
- How do we respond to success?
- What premium do we place on trust?
- How do we cultivate trust inside and outside the organization?
- How do we define our leadership environment?
- What is the “leadership DNA” of this team?
- How do we grow as individuals? As an organization? Is there a spirit of growth?
- How do we disagree with superiors? Is dissent encouraged, or even allowed?
- How do we leverage the creative and intellectual capital of the organization’s members?
- How do we encourage critical thinking from every member of the team?
- How do we connect with our people?
- How do we show compassion and empathy for one another?
- How do we respond when a person’s personal and professional obligations come into conflict?
- Does the lowest level in the organization know the vision? Do we live and lead by it?
- How aligned is the vision with the culture we’re trying to create? How do we know when they’re not aligned?
Simple questions? Yes. But the answers are potentially decisive for discovering the culture you’re leading in and how to shape it going forward.
Questions for Leaders
- What methods do you use to check the culture of your organization?
- How would you know if your culture was drifting somewhere you didn’t intend?
- Are you asking the right questions to better understand your team…or any questions at all?