The Blue Kite Blog

3 Common Culture Missteps to Avoid in Your Business

By | August 22, 2016

I watched an interview recently with New Jersey Senator Cory Booker. He talked about how we have two choices in life. We can either be thermometers or thermostats.

He has said, “Are you a thermometer or a thermostat? Will you yield to the world’s temperature or will you set it?”

Thermometers read the temperature of the environment. They are influenced by the environment and what is happening around them. In contrast, thermostats regulate and determine the temperature for the environment.

Not only is this good personal advice about how we allow our circumstances to influence us, it’s also advice we can carry into our workplace and how we think about company culture.

A Thermostat vs. Thermometer Culture

Your culture should be the thermostat of your company.

Culture dictates how people behave and interact with each other and determines the right environment for your workplace. Regulating your company culture will positively or negatively affect the whole company.

When company culture is treated like a thermometer is when you get in trouble.

Culture that is not defined is responsive to the loudest factors. Unfortunately, in most cases, the loudest factors are usually negative – toxic employees, lack of transparency or actions that do not align with the mission of the company.

Creating a culture that is a thermostat rather than a thermometer is vital to your company’s success. It’s the difference between being proactive versus reactive. And yes, it takes effort.

Unfortunately, many companies fall into common missteps when attempting to create and cultivate their company culture. Don’t let yourself fall into these common culture missteps.  

3 Common Culture Missteps

1. Lack of Focus

The biggest reason a company’s culture suffers is simply because no one is paying attention to it. Like we often say, if you don’t define your company culture, it will define you.

There are many things to worry about as a leader, it’s sometimes hard to understand why paying attention to your company culture matters. But focusing on cultivating healthy company culture has many rewards for your business.

Unfortunately, it’s often too late before you realize your culture needs attention. You may notice employees are leaving, your recent growth isn’t sustainable or employees seem unhappy. Sometimes we have to hit some major pain points to realize we need to start paying attention.

Consider the story of IBM. Once a giant in its field, by the early 1990s it was losing billions of dollars. Lou Gerstner was brought in as CEO and chairman to take over and he brought much needed change to the company.

Lou Gerstner attributes the transformation of IBM to culture and the fact that he choose to focus on it. Strategy wasn’t saving this dying company. Originally, he believed that culture is something you simply you just talk about. But, he quickly learned that culture is everything.

Focusing on your culture, being proactive and intentional with how you define it is the first step to ensuring you are creating a sustainable, strong company culture.

2. Lack of Authenticity

Looking at other companies with a strong culture is not a bad thing, but imitating exactly what they’re doing is not effective. The old saying, imitation is the most sincere form of flattery, does not ring true in this case.

If we are looking side to side at what others are doing and copying them, we are not staying true to ourselves. This results in a lack of authenticity that shines through your business. Customers and employees can see that and inauthenticity breeds a lack of trust.

Your culture should be rooted in your core values and your core why. These values and your why are different than others – your culture should be too.

Seek to cultivate a unique, authentic company culture that reflects your brand and your story. Your company culture is a competitive advantage that sets you apart.

Dr. Seuss is on to something when he says, “Today you are You, that is truer than true. There is no one alive who is Youer than You.”

Don’t fall into being like everyone else – create a company culture that is true to the heart and soul of your company.

3. Lack of Leader Engagement

Because culture is often viewed as one section of your company, like sales or marketing, it’s easy to make one person “in charge” of culture, classify it under the HR department or make each manager responsible for the culture on their own team.

But to create a healthy, strong company culture as a whole, the Founder and leadership team must be leading the charge.

As the leader of a company, you are a thermostat. It’s part of the job description. People look to you to set the temperature for your company. It matters that the cultural direction comes from you.

For example, if you tell your staff to maintain healthy work/life boundaries, but yet you don’t demonstrate that, how can they trust that it is a value that matters to the company?

Or if the HR department plans an event to promote staff togetherness and none of the leaders come, what does that say to the rest of the employees? They see you don’t value it, so why should they?

The leadership team should lead by example as to what the culture should look like. Remember, people will do what you do before they will do what you say.

How to Avoid These Common Missteps

Making missteps with your culture are all too common. After all, it’s easy to forget that your company culture actually matters, to just mimic what others are doing or to push it off as someone else’s responsibility. But usually things that are worth doing are not easy.

So, what are some actions you can take to avoid these missteps?

1. Choose to Invest in Your Culture

Make the intentional and active decision to focus on your culture. It sounds easy, but you have to decide that it is worth the time and investment.

This may mean having an initial conversation with your leadership team about the state of your company culture and then taking a leadership retreat to get back to the foundation of what your company is about. Whatever that action step is for you, decide to start defining your culture so that it is no longer defining you.

2. Identify How Your Culture is Unique

After you’ve decided to focus on your company culture, decide what is unique about your culture.

Start with the why of your company. Why does it exist? Identify your core values and build from there. Your why and core values should be the foundation and shape your company culture. Figure out what sets you apart from your competitors.

3. Receive Feedback from Employees

While leaders need to be the one setting the direction, creating your company culture can not be completely top-down.

Seek out ways to hear from your employees – the actual people immersed in the company every day. What do they think is unique? Why do they love working there? What don’t they like about their job? Conduct surveys or hold townhalls to ensure all voices from all levels of the company are heard.

While there are many other keys to creating a strong, healthy culture, following these steps will set you in the right direction and help you create a culture that acts as a thermostat rather than a thermometer.