The Key Organizational Culture Question

The Key Organizational Culture Question

posted in: Articles, Business | 0

question markEvery organization understands the value of a great culture, however, for most it’s elusive. There is one question that tests “good vs. great” better than any other when it comes to vibrantly healthy culture. It pierces the core of the healthy culture issue:

What is it about your organization that makes it worth sacrificing for?

Disney, Apple, Southwest Airlines, and Tom’s Shoes have a great answer to this question. The list could be much longer, but the “secret sauce” ingredient common to these organizations is that they’ve found a compelling way to communicate to their stakeholders that they are worth sacrificing for.


How is your company culture?  In need of a tune-up? 

Looking in the “Culture Assessment” Mirror
Even companies that start-out with clear purpose and shared core principles can easily “drift” over time.   To improve cultural formation and protect against drift, let’s assess our current practices against seven key dimensions. The first two pieces are the foundation for any culture, be it family, company, or nation.

1) Vision. Scripture says, “Where there is no vision, the people perish” (Proverbs 29:18a). Our ability to express shared vision through our team is foundational. Culture is the net result of how people think about what they’re doing and the value they place on it. Vision – pursuing “a perceived worthy result” – is what drives this attitude. Vision answers the question, “Why am I doing this instead of something else?” People are motivated, inspired, and attracted to give themselves to a vision they believe to be truly worthy.

What’s your vision? What is it about your company that makes it worth sacrificing for? Will the world somehow benefit because you’re there doing business? If not, don’t expect many people to pour their hearts into your company. You may use money to retain them a while, but they’ll leave you if offered more pay somewhere else. But, if they give you their hearts, you’ll have the start of a great culture.

Does vision make a real difference? The answer can be found in this familiar story:
A nobleman traveling through the countryside came upon two men laying brick. “What are you doing?” he asked the first man. “I’m laying brick to support my family,” he replied. “And you?”, the nobleman asked the second man, “What are you doing?” “I’m building a magnificent cathedral to God’s glory,” said the second man. Which man would you prefer to have working for you? Which perceived enterprise is most worth emulating? Leaders impart vision and articulate it clearly and often. Do you have a clear vision that you articulate compellingly? Do you talk about it with your team and help them relate the events of your daily business experience to fulfilling this vision? Do even your newest, entry level employees know your vision? Does this vision integrate and animate your purpose, and permeate your business? Is your team laying brick or building a cathedral?

Rate yourself. If you believe your vision passionately drives and permeates your business, give yourself a 10. If perhaps half the team knows what it is, take a 5. If you’re not quite sure yourself, take a sabbatical!


2) Values define your organization’s essential, enduring tenets and guiding principles. They’re distinctive to your organization and express the boundaries within which you’ll pursue your purpose and vision. Values are unchanging; the non-negotiable bedrock of your corporate soul. In a Christian culture, corporate values transmit the values of our ultimate Owner to others through the servant leader/steward. Core values are those that you will ‘put it all on the line’ for… in a sense, die for. There are probably only a handful of them – bigger than generic goals like customer satisfaction or excellence – and more akin to integrity, creativity, civility, truth, and love. A strong culture is held together primarily by vision and values. Vision defines where we want to go, and values tell us how we’ll act along the way. How strong are your corporate values? Does your Mission Statement reflect them? Are your values woven into the very fabric of what you do every day? Does everyone on your team know them?

Rate your culture. If your culture is truly values-driven, take a 10. If you’re aware of the need and working on it, take a 5. If you think values are what you get when the blue light is on at Kmart, take a 1 just because you’re here!


If vision and values are a culture’s heart, the next five items make up the body.

3) Structure refers to organizational design. Healthy cultures tend to exist when there’s structural support to encourage the qualities that the culture espouses. Supporting the kind of organization that we need to succeed in today’s marketplace – one focused and resilient enough to persist, adapt, innovate, and keep winning while expressing vision and values in a Christian context – won’t happen in just any structure. The early church is a great example, blending authority with freedom, growth, and wise guidelines… but few ironclad rules. People were encouraged to develop and freely use their gifts and talents to move the organization forward for God’s greater purposes (as contrasted with bureaucratic stifling of creativity and innovation). Many growing companies begin as principled “meritocracies,” but become progressively more bureaucratic as they add layers of structure in an attempt to secure the status quo.

How about your organization? Is your structure healthy? Are your people working freely and creatively toward accomplishing a shared vision? Or are they increasingly caught up in pushing paper and emails, and attending low-impact meetings that add little value?

If you have an effective, minimalist structure that promotes individual responsibility for contributing to team progress, while still providing leaders with the information needed to make wise decisions, you’re a 10. If you’re beginning to feel burdened by time-consuming, administrative tasks, take a 5. If you spend most of your time doing/reading reports just to keep up with your growing bureaucracy, take a break!


4) Systems develop over time. They can either enhance or inhibit the culture we seek. By “systems,” we mean everything from data management, to employee acquisition and training, accounting, performance management, compensation, product development, project management, and standard operating processes. Systems bring order to our companies. Without them, we’d have chaos. But we need alignment between our systems, vision, and values. If, for example, we compensate our team in a way that promotes entitlement thinking by awarding annual raises based on seniority or incentivizing individual performance in a team environment, we can undermine teamwork, initiative, and innovation. We must align systems and resources to reinforce the cultural attributes we seek. Do your systems reflect your vision and values? Are you paying your people based on productivity or longevity? Do you reward innovation or mistake avoidance? Do your systems reinforce and enhance your culture as they should? Rate yourself.


5) Skills in an organization are like fuel for a car. We can’t get very far without them. A vital, forward-looking culture values continual learning and skill-set enhancement. Cross-training and versatility create value, flexibility, and resiliency as things change. While highly specialized skills can be valuable, a culture based on simplistic ‘overspecialization’ is dangerous! “Lean” thinking cautions against tight specialization in favor of multi-functional teams that can respond without waiting for specialists. Does your culture actively promote broadened skills development and continuous learning? Sadly, many leaders fail to appreciate these qualities which are profitable for the long-term. In the short-term, there’s a price to pay for such learning, but there’s a much higher long- term cost for falling short in this area.

Rate your culture. If your team celebrates when someone learns something new, takes a class, or earns a relevant degree or certification, you may be a 10. If learning and cross- training are integral to your performance evaluations and compensation system, you help pay for targeted training and education, and nearly everyone participates, you’re at least a 7. If these ideas are new, but you’re excited to jump in, take a few points.


Style and symbols are two key ways leaders can thoughtfully influence culture. These silent but powerful voices give evidence to us “walking our talk” and tremendously influence our culture. No matter how flat our organizational chart – whether it’s upside down, right-side up, or on its side – a team watches its leaders. Our actions – the things we do, the way we do them, and what we reward – constantly speak to our team and demonstrate what we truly value.

6) Style refers to the way we see ourselves and treat others. As leaders, we can be imperious and arrogant, transparent and humble, or something in-between.   Importantly, our style reinforces our values and culture. If we preach servant leadership but fail to lead-by- example or repent when we fall short, we can produce a wobbly and cynical culture!

Rate your style. Open and humble is a 10. Aloof and distracted is, at best, a 5. Imperious, arrogant, and condescending is a 0.


7) Symbols are outward, unspoken representations of our values. They include: our wall art, the way we dress, what we pay ourselves, our cars and homes, how we spend our discretionary time, those who comprise our dearest friends and closest advisors, and our aspirations. The things we do, and the decisions we make, communicate our real story in a way our words can’t. Our culture is seriously impacted by whether there’s consistency between what we say and what we do. Rate your symbols. Are they consistent with the things you claim to value?


TOTAL of 7 Ratings:

A perfect score is 70. If you gave yourself a 70, we’d strongly suggest asking your spouse and staff to rate you and then averaging their scores with yours. If you still score 70, you’re in the wrong business (on second thought, maybe not!). A solid score would be 50 and average is 35.

Culture is a fragile asset that strengthens or deteriorates with every choice and comment we make. Technologies, government regulations, market demands, and secular society all press against our company cultures. Unless we’re very intentional about developing and sustaining our culture, these external pressures will prevail.   Those called to run businesses for Christ face spiritual opposition. We can be thankful that our King and His culture are eternal and unchanging. He has given us an everlasting example and a great resource, His Living Word, to guide our actions and light our way.

C12 Chairman- Central California Bryan Hyzdu


About The C12 Group

Founded in 1992, The C12 Group is America’s leading provider of executive roundtables for Christian CEOs and Business Owners. C12’s mission is to “change the world by bringing forth the Kingdom of God in the marketplace through the companies and lives of those He calls to run businesses for Him.” For more information about The C12 Group visit or call 336-841-7100.


By Lisa V. Cone

C12 Group Staff Writer



Leave a Reply