What’s So Scary About Creating A Culture?

Scary Culture 210People have fears. Organizations are made up of people. People fear change. Fear surrounds efforts to create something new and different, even if it could mean something positive for individuals, organizations, customers, and other stakeholders. What has strategic thinking got to do with it? Wait, what?

See what I did there? No? Strategic thinking has three levels and at the highest level of strategic thinking is the ability to deal with ambiguity. Change is the personification of ambiguity. We may prepare, we may research, we may confer with SMEs, we might even ask our Mom’s advice. But there is still plenty of ambiguity to go around with change, especially a major change. Fear of the unknown tops the list. Just ask Covid-19.

Fear of Failure

It’s one thing to have failures that no one is witness to, it’s quite another to fail in front of your peers, co-workers, employees, clients, the Board, and other stakeholders. Egg doesn’t wash off our faces so quickly.  Further, if the failure proves expensive, well need I say more?

Fear of failure is misplaced in this case. What if your culture is toxic and you don’t change it? That is the greater fear. The best products cannot survive a toxic culture. The idea is to put this fear to rest by asking a few targeted questions about your current culture.

  • Do your employees communicate well with one another?
  • Do employees understand one another’s behavioral and communications styles, and motivators?
  • Is there trust and respect throughout your entire organization?
  • Are meetings well organized, well attended, and does everyone feel they both have a voice and are heard?
  • Is your organization one of diversity and inclusion?
  • Is coaching, mentoring, and career building a part of your culture?
  • What is the management style of your organization? Is it fear? Is it directive? Is it visionary? Is it democratic?

Clearly answers of no are where your fear should reside. The fear of creating a new and better culture should be put aside while putting elements into place to help prevent failure.

What Are the Risks?

What are the risks of your current culture? If answers to some of the questions above are less than desirable, then your culture is at risk. Those answers are like the message you receive on your computer, “Your data is at risk.” Or something similar. If there is no trust and respect, your culture is at risk. If there is management by fear, your culture is at risk. One source suggests that there needs to be a “cultural vigilance” in place. The are two types of risks to guard against, the risk of failure and the risk of having the good culture you’ve built deteriorate. Here are ideas to help prevent both.

  • Create comment. No change will “stick” without commitment, especially from the executives at your organization. Drive that sense of commitment throughout the organization. Everyone must be on board.
  • Buy in. One way to help create commitment is having the entire team help build the culture they want to work in day in and day out. Your front line, for example, can tell exactly what needs changing.
  • Reward behaviors that fit the culture you’ve created. If you’re culture is one of intolerance for discrimination, sexual harassment, bullying, and other toxic behaviors, then hold the people accountable who violate those cultural intolerances. Examples of not holding people accountable include:
  • Putting your head in the sand and ignoring such behaviors
  • Failing to model positive behaviors at the top
  • Giving special passes to, “oh that’s just Sally’s way” behaviors


The impact of your culture can be seen, felt, and heard throughout your organization, your community, industry, and society. Business publications are full of stories of companies that failed the positive cultural test. Just ask these companies, Uber, Amazon, Forever 21. Others that have taken a hit on culture include Equifax, United Airlines, and Facebook. Today, organizational cultures are highlighted more than ever because of the pandemic. Extra caring and concern as well as deeper and more consistent training around culture need to be the order of the day.


Some define culture as “the way people behave in organizations.” The operative word here is people. People are the ones who act out your culture every day. People are the ones who need to understand your business so they can be trusted with its culture. People are the ones who need to be trusted. People are the ones most impacted by your culture. The people you hire need to fit your culture.

Conveying the message to your people needs to begin with the job post. Express elements of your culture there right from the beginning. Weed out those from applying who don’t want to work in your culture and who do not fit your culture. Convey that message again in the interviewing process. Convey it again and most deeply during the on boarding process.

Review our culture, change it if need be, then monitor it consistently. Be strategic in your thinking, planning, communications, hiring, and culture building. The best strategic thinkers have earned the ability to:

  • Create the new and different
  • Deal with ambiguity
  • Deliver more innovative management
  • Engage in better perspective taking

These are all talents and skills you need to create a more positive culture.

Thank you for reading this blog. For more information on building a better culture Let’s Get Started!

Graphic Credit: BigSock.com

Risk Management