There seems to be a continuum on how people deal with culture issues. At one end are those who say. “This is amorphous and intangible and hard to pin down!” At the other, they state, “We need to quantify and measure this!”

As usual, a solid approach is somewhere in the middle. And, in this case, I mean walking around in the middle of your organization, department or team: seeing and listening to what’s happening.

Otherwise, we might only be hearing the voices inside our heads — and start believing our own press.

That’s certainly what happened in the last organization where I was a VP, as you’ll hear here.


We forget that culture is human.

Jim was a plant manager who knew the automotive parts facility he led was up for sale. And so did all his people. So he hid in his office: afraid that they would be angry with or blame him for the situation.

I came through as part of a team to improve communication throughout the company, including this plant. We returned to present the results and asked Jim to share the new communication plan with everyone.

He was terrified. What if people heckled him when he spoke? Or asked him hard questions he couldn’t answer?

So Jim stood at the podium, knuckles white in a death grip. When he was done, something magic happened.

People thanked Jim for wanting to improve the flow of information at the facility. And they asked what they could do to make the plant operate more efficiently and profitably — so it would attract a good buyer.

It was like watching an iceberg melt. Jim had feared recrimination. What he didn’t understand was the culture all around him: people just wanted to do good work and keep their jobs.

It’s time to stop living life on the edge: thinking culture is too difficult to manage or change, or that it can be crunched into a bunch of data that averages out responses — and can make them meaningless in the process.

But we can use data as a way to motivate ourselves to do something about this:

  • See this infographic on the impact a culture can have when it’s positive or negative
  • Read this article with every good and frightening statistic on employee engagement

Then get out of your office and connect with people. Perhaps, like Jim, you’ll find a much better world than you expected — and one you’ll want to lead.