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How Much Does Culture Matter?

It matters more than you think. You can never take it too seriously. Sure, everyone says it is important, but few organizations spend time or money specifically focused on improving their culture, and in 99 percent of organizations nobody is responsible for ensuring the culture is dynamic. Remember that a strong culture increases profits by 756 percent over a period of eleven years. So why isn’t it someone’s role to ensure that your culture becomes more dynamic every year?

“This culture stuff,” as I recently heard a leader refer to it, really matters. It matters more than most people think, and it matters more with every passing year, because every new generation of workers places a higher priority on it than the generation before. It is actually of monumental importance; you can’t exaggerate this importance in your organization’s destiny. Ignore it at your peril and the peril of the organization you work with or lead.

Culture matters even more than those who think it matters a lot think it does. What I’m trying to say is, you can’t exaggerate the importance of culture in your organization’s destiny. It eats strategy for breakfast, but it eats sales and marketing for lunch, and new product development for dinner. And yet culture gets ignored in many of the most important organizational discussions each year.

The great majority of organizations massively underestimate the value of culture. Now, that is a very bold statement. Can I prove it with a mathematical equation or a longitudinal study from a well-respected research institute? No. But here’s the thing: I have met many business leaders who thought culture was important, or even very important, but I have never met a business leader who overestimated how important culture was to the success of their organization.

Nothing matters more than culture in the long run. There are literally an unlimited number of reasons why this is true, and we will discuss many of them as we make our way through the six immutable principles of building a Dynamic Culture. But here are a few to whet your appetite.

  • Culture is the difference between long-term, sustainable success and failure.

  • Culture is the difference between a highly engaged workforce and a quit-and-stay workforce.

  • Culture is the difference between happy team members and miserable team members.

  • Great cultures change the conversation at every dinner table, when an employee’s family asks: How was work today? And that conversation forms the way our children think about work, which is the earliest professional development the next generation of team members at your organization and others receive.

  • Dynamic Cultures add value in ways that are impossible to name or measure.

  • A Dynamic Culture saves an organization from wasting resources on turnover, on attracting talent, and on training new employees—all of which distract your most talented people from your biggest opportunities. So it should be no surprise that great cultures lead to astounding profitability.

  • Organizations literally live or die on culture.

The number one reason organizations underestimate the value of culture is something I have never heard spoken about in the corporate world. But to understand how important what I am about to say is, consider this question: If you were going to war, would you rather have a conscripted army (forced to work), a mercenary army (only doing it for the money or loot), or a volunteer army (fighting for something they believe in)?

It wouldn’t matter whether I was leading the whole army or the lowest-ranking member of that army, I’d want it to be the last type, volunteer. A volunteer army would be more cohesive, more passionate, and more likely to take a personal risk to help me if I got into trouble, and they would be much more likely to win.

Now, I am not suggesting we all volunteer to do our work, but here’s the thing most organizations never consider or discuss: How many hours a week do you think your employees collectively volunteer for your organization? I mean hours you don’t officially pay them to work. Perhaps they arrive a bit early or leave a little late. Maybe they work after they get their children in bed to finish a project, catch up on email, or just plan the next day. They might take a short lunch, eat lunch at their desk, or occasionally miss lunch altogether, because they believe something is so important they are willing to freely make that sacrifice. Your organization doesn’t pay them for any of this work.

This is corporate voluntarism, and it is huge—massive, actually. And yet, we never talk about it. When we discuss voluntarism, we typically speak about a team that went down to the local soup kitchen Friday night to help, or another team that visited the children’s hospital. But the majority of volunteer hours freely given by your employees each year are given directly to your organization. And the quality of your culture directly determines the number of hours your people volunteer each year. It’s fascinating—the better your culture is, the more likely people are to work way beyond what is officially required of them and what they are compensated for in dollars and cents.

The number one reason culture matters more than anything in the long run is because it ignites passion, and people who are passionate about something will do whatever it takes to win.


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