In my experience, there are two kinds of corporate cultures: the accidental culture and the intentional one.
The accidental culture is what happens when a leader emerges or is assigned to a group and group performance begins to improve. The employees respond to the individual and you see in monthly reports that there is a difference being made, that the “numbers are improving”.
Now, you might think it odd that I called this accidental, since the leader was assigned the role with the likely intent of improving results.
It’s accidental because two very different leaders could generate the same positive business result, while leaving a different kind of cultural legacy. Sometimes the leader is a demanding, threatening, bullying, high expectations sort who creates results out of fear. People don’t challenge, they keep their heads down and work collectively to get that leader promoted out of their midst.
Then there is the leader who knows how to build confidence and collaboration in others. One who may also be demanding and have high expectations, but works from a basis of respect, not bullying. One who generates positive results that frequently become the norm long after their departure.
I’ve seen both types assigned to a tough situation, both generate great results, but only the second stands any test of time.
That’s where intentional cultures come in. With intentional cultures, leaders are chosen and assigned to create results, but to also create an ongoing effective business process. One where the words “people are our most important asset” are not just a platitude, but a recognition that the effectiveness of your team can be the most important competitive advantage you can build.
In watching these types of situations play out through the years, I have come to think about this as the difference between something being infectious or contagious.
In medical terms, we use the word “contagious” to acknowledge that we pass disease from person to person. I have to have some sort of exposure or contact with someone infected to get the disease. But an infectious disease can get to me without that contact. Something in the air, in the environment, carried the infection to me.
Culture is about people. We learn from those around us. Their work processes, their habits, their rituals, their celebrations. And a workplace culture develops over time. As leaders, we are most infectious with our behaviors. A leader may not literally touch everyone on the team, yet through stories and experience, employees become infected with culture that is created through those behaviors.
As we enter a new year, and we think about our goals and objectives, I ask you to consider this question: “What do you do in your day to day performance that can infect your culture in the best way possible?” Because whether you know it or not, your behaviors are an infection. You just want them to be beneficial.