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4 Steps To Protect Your Organization’s Culture

Today, we are sharing our blog with Dr. John C. Mrazek, Owner & President of SharedXP. John is one of our partners who is helping to share how BELAY is serving churches and other organizations while positively impacting processes and operations. Check out the video at the end of this blog for more information on SharedXP.


At the start of the movie Gladiator, the main character, Maximus, is discussing with the Roman Emperor their perspectives of the Kingdom. During the conversation the Emperor describes Rome as a whisper that is so fragile it could vanish if spoken too loudly. Many organizations would describe their cultures the same way.

As a business coach, I help organizations assess and create plans to improve their culture. Every organization has the same struggle defining their culture and dealing with the multiple perceptions of what it is by their employees. In nearly every case, each organization’s culture is just as fragile and difficult to protect as the Emperor’s definition of Rome in the movie.


Why are cultures so fragile and difficult to define?

My standard answer is to remind the organization that their culture is stored within the minds and hearts of their staff and leadership. That answer, of course, generates even more questions. Let me explain what I mean by these two statements.

Culture is frequently defined as an unspoken set of agreements and expectations that a group of people creates over time that guides their interactions. Business leaders often think of it as a handbook or list of the expectations that each person follows and expects others to follow as they work together.

Some common examples of these expectations are a requirement that we treat each other politely, with integrity, professionally, and truthfully. There are also expectations that we will complete what we start, follow the leadership’s direction completely, and do our best in all circumstances. Sometimes, following the golden rule (treat others like you want to be treated) and treating each other fairly also makes the list.

There are also a host of artifacts and assumptions that are added to the culture that staff adopts that are part of the history of the organization. A good example of an artifact is a special statement or declaration that the leadership believes illustrates a core belief or special triumph.


You need more than a handbook.

Many organizations attempt to document their culture in the staff handbook. But there can be several expectations that are tough to define concisely or can be troublesome for leadership to own politically. These end up becoming part of the “lore” of the organization and only reside within the staff members minds and hearts. This is why it is critical that the leadership include the staff in defining the culture in order to collect as complete a picture as possible.

Changing a culture starts with collecting the expectations and perceptions from the staff and then comparing them with what the leadership intended for the attributes of the culture to be. I frequently find a gap between leadership’s intentions and staff’s perceptions. Addressing this gap can be tough if leadership refuses to accept the perceptions of the staff. Some leadership teams ignore the staff’s contribution and decide to force their expectations and definitions for culture on their employees. This approach can appear to work because staff will comply out of fear for their job security. But compliance is different from behavioral change and usually ends up being short term because it is forced.


4 ways you can influence culture change:

When I coach an organization through culture renewal, I advocate that leadership take a gentler approach where they influence cultural changes instead of forcing them. You can influence cultural change by:

  1. Model the change before beginning a campaign to implement the change
  2. Influence one change at a time so that all of your resources can be focused
  3. Build a case for why this change is needed by describing what the organization will look like with the change in place
  4. Win over the teams influencers first and they will influence the rest

There is a lot more that I could say about the process and my experiences helping lead cultural change. But each strategy needs to be tailored to the organization and there is no generic formula that I can share. Culture is fragile and needs protection. But, it can be improved with careful assessment, thoughtful planning, and the application of best practice techniques. Will you be the Maximus that protects your organization’s culture?


Want to learn more about SharedXP? Watch this video below: