"Culture" is a Verb
Redefining "The Hottest Topic in Business Today"
A new associate joined me in the middle of September. Recently, she and I were discussing her first three weeks on the job. One thing she said which surprised me — pleasantly, of course — was that Todd Herman Associates' (THA) culture was "so progressive!" I asked her to name some examples she'd seen which exhibited this, and she mentioned several:
• Having a Corporate Wellness program, and encouraging all employees to take advantage of it.
• Being appreciated for contributions to the firm's successes — including her, despite her short tenure.
• Bringing in a member of my congregation to help another associate navigate some healthcare treatment and payment options which were unusually complex.
• Using a Quarterly Performance Management system.
• Seeing me model behaviors and set the tone for the entire firm.
She also described a leadership exercise she'd participated in at her previous employer. At a leadership company's training campus, the instructor told the group to take their smartphones and go around the grounds, snapping photos which illustrated their answer to the question, "What is 'leadership' to you?"
Her answer? A photo of a garden hose, explaining that water is needed to nurture a plant, and that the leader's role is to nurture those who follow him or her — and she'd already seen several instances where I was nurturing or helping my staff members.
She then handed me some articles she'd found on "culture" and the one which stood out for both of us was an April 2014 article in Forbes, titled "Culture: Why It's The Hottest Topic in Business Today," by Josh Bersin. In the article, the author encourages companies to think about the "total employee experience" and uses the Simply Irresistible model to illustrate many of the factors that "drive or support culture." We began to discuss several aspects of the five elements of this model, as summarized in this image in the article:
As we discussed this illustration, we marked it up based on what she'd already seen and experienced about THA:
As is frequently the case, I had an "ah ha" moment related to all this over the weekend — the culture she was describing at THA was not a noun, but a verb!
In a later article, Josh Bersin defines "culture" this way:
Culture is the set of behaviors, values, artifacts, reward systems, and rituals that make up your organization. You can "feel" culture when you visit a company, because it is often evident in people's behavior, enthusiasm, and the space itself. (Source: http://www.forbes.com/sites/joshbersin/2015/03/13/culture-why-its-the-hottest-topic-in-business-today/#46d74f37b6e2)
Interestingly, this definition incorporates what I see as both the noun and verb forms of "culture."
• The first sentence reflects the noun form of "culture" — A picture of these attributes at a point in time.
• The second sentence reflects the verb form of "culture" — A movie showing how these attributes play out real-time.
Going back to her "leadership is a garden hose" analogy — that, too, reflects culture as a verb. We typically think of "culturing something" as "growing a plant or sample in a special environment or preparation." By nurturing employees planted in your environment, you are culturing them and thereby creating a culture.
More generally, culture must be cultivated — it cannot be a one-time mission statement, list of values, or other static element. Culture is created — for better or for worse — in the day-to-day interactions executives or managers have with their staff.
How about you? What culture are you cultivating in your department or company? Always remember — actions speak louder than words, and that's why "culture" is a verb.
Todd L. Herman