How a Leader Creates the Right Culture

“Move your hands away from the table! Back up slowly. Time’s up! Move away from the table.”

No, it’s not an arrest in process. It’s an SGR instructor informing students that time’s up on the puzzle their group has been working upon.

“Ok, Rotate!”

With those words, the group moves to the next table where they inherit the unfinished puzzle of the previous group. Fortunately for this team, the previous group has made a lot of progress. They inherit a pretty good situation. Not every group is so lucky. Sometimes they inherit a confusing mess.

That’s leadership, right? Sometimes you inherit a pretty good culture, sometimes it’s a mess, and sometimes you create a mess yourself. So, when the culture isn’t what it needs to be, and you don’t have the freedom to just “clean house” and start over, what do you do? How do you create the culture you want?

Organizations become what they talk about. Since its inception, SGR has valued innovation, and the more we talk about innovation, the more it spurs us to become more innovative. If you are what you eat, then your organization is what you talk about.

Think about how it’s been working in your office. What’s everyone talking about? Complaints? Negativity? Time crunch? Scarce resources? Chances are those conversations are driving the culture. It’s amazing how conversation and culture become intertwined.

So, if you want to change the culture, change the conversation. As Bonnie Raitt sang, “Let’s give them something to talk about!” Whether you inherited it, created it, or some combination of the two, if you want to create the right culture, you have to start by talking about the right things.

  1. Determine what your organization’s core values really are. Involve everyone (Yes, Everyone!) in that process. Think Dialogue not Dictation.
  2. Narrow down the list to a manageable number. Ideally, it should be no more than five. (Not every value is a CORE value.)
  3. Talk about them all the time. Really. Everywhere. Relate them to everything. In his book Mastering the Rockefeller Habits, Verne Harnish says that it’s like having preschoolers: “Have a few rules. Live by them. Repeat yourself over and over.” (p. 43)

That’s one way you create the culture. Use a participative process that enables your team to identify a few core values. Live by them. Talk about them all the time. It won’t be too long before you begin to notice that you are becoming what you talk about.

Mike Mowery

Written by:
Mike Mowery
Chief Operations Officer, Strategic Government Resources

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