Culture Trumps Everything: A Tale of Two Businesses

Here’s a tale of two businesses:

Tom, the owner of a busy retail store, was working in his office when his desk chair broke. Quickly, before running off to an important vendor meeting, Tom bought a new chair at the office warehouse down the street. He drug the box in from the car and asked his staff to put it together while he was out.

When he returned a few hours later, the chair sat in his office, partially assembled and painfully crooked.The box it came in lay empty on the floor with a collection of plastic wrapping and unused parts surrounding it.

Randy, the president of a local media company, informed his staff in passing at their weekly meeting that, due to the pressures of the economic downturn, a much needed exterior painting of their tired-looking office building would be put off for another year.

As a surprise to the entire team, a front-line employee, his family, and some of his friends power-washed the facility, taped off the windows and doors, and painted the entire building in one marathon weekend. They paid for entire project, including the materials, themselves.

What’s the difference between these two businesses? In a word, culture.

Culture trumps everything. The most brilliant strategy and the most inspired plan is dead on arrival if it’s delivered to a company whose culture is broken. Culture is the context that determines the quality of all actions within an organization. As outsiders we see the frail branches, pick the tasteless fruit, and blame the plant. The issue is usually deeper though, unseen in the roots that feed the plant and affect its health. Culture.

What kind of culture are you creating in your company?