The main character in Patrick Lencioni’s wonderful book, “Getting Naked,” is named Jack Bauer. Not to be confused with the Jack Bauer who saved the world from terrorists—one hour at a time—in the Fox television series “24,” this Jack Bauer is a management consultant, struggling to save his career.
At one point in the story Bauer is asked what the culture at his consulting firm is like. He responds that it is very collegial, professional, and client focused.
When asked to elaborate, Bauer shudders inwardly, hoping that he would not be asked that question. The reason: He didn’t really know what any of that meant, and just said it because it was printed in his firm’s brochures and on its website.
One might chuckle because the comment rings true. But if you are the owner or manager of a business, big or small, that line is not so funny if it’s being made by one of your executives or employees.
That’s because you know (or should know) that company culture is way too important to your business’s success. As the legendary management guru Peter Drucker once wrote, “Culture eats strategy for breakfast every day.”
While many people talk or ask about company culture, the term “corporate culture” has many definitions. I tend to think of culture as shared values, beliefs, and behavior that shape and define a company’s character and soul, which in turn influence company performance at every level.
Just as the Jack Bauer character in Lencioni’s fable was asked what his company culture was like, it is a question often asked by job candidates and prospective customers and clients.
But the better question is: “Who owns your company’s culture?”
Who owns your company’s culture is an important question to managing culture for improved business performance at every level.
The answer to that question should offer clues as to how important culture is to any given company, and what that culture is like. If for example, a candidate for a sales position at a company that produces precision-made industrial components learns that the engineering group “owns” the corporate culture, that may say something about how sales and business development rate at the firm.
Big companies have the luxury of having boards of directors who can ask the cultural ownership question. By their selection criteria and annual evaluations for CEOs, boards can assure that CEOs’ ownership of corporate culture is enthusiastic, complete, committed, and effective.
Smaller companies do not have that luxury. Often the CEO is the founder. Some people get and are good at corporate culture, and some are not. In smaller businesses it is critical that CEO’s recognize the importance of culture—and the impact that culture has on business performance at all levels—and that they be prescient enough to recognize that if they are not effective at creating and managing culture, they surround themselves by a lot of people who are.
Ultimately, however, it cannot be the CEO alone who owns company culture. Company culture has to be understood and owned by everyone. That ownership should not sit on people as a burden or a responsibility, but as a privilege and a pleasure. And it should be a shared ownership that reflects the welfare of the company, its customers, and employees as a whole.
So, who owns the culture in your company?