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The Sex of Culture

The sex of company culture

The title of this article caught your eye—and that is okay! The topic of sex is one that is top of mind for many and generally considered taboo in the workplace. Why? Because sex is personal, confidential, and requires a level of vulnerability to realize its full potential, for intimacy or even reproduction. The topic of sex is at the core of most individual’s understanding of human existence and is considered a basic requirement for the evolution of life.

But what about your company culture? Shouldn’t you consider the company culture you envisioned as foundational to your existence as an organization? Do you treat your company culture in a manner that we treat our human existence – with personal distinction, integrity, and vulnerability?

Like sex in human nature, the sex of culture is required for evolution. This evolution of culture is required for organizations to propagate, manifest, and implement the strongest cultural DNA over time. Before we can talk about the sex of culture, let us explore the “birds-and-the bees” first! The Sex of Culture is not possible without cultural integrity (the “birds”) and cultural consistency (the “bees”). 

Cultural Integrity (The Birds):

There has been a massive wave of companies rewriting, reinventing, and/or implementing an entirely new internal culture — and it is now one of the top corporate initiatives in the U.S. and abroad.  To test this theory, briefly scan your LinkedIn postings and count how many organizations and fellow business leaders are promoting aspects of their own or other company cultures. How many posts did you encounter where an organization’s company values were marketed as a branded statement to those who care to listen? How many organizations highlighted a specific value as paramount to their success in these “difficult times” (i.e. Diversity, Equity, & Inclusion)? 

This surge in companies marketing their newly hatched corporate values is intended to be their prescriptive marker, exclaiming to the world: “This is who we are!”.  Whether coming from a customer or employee, these companies are professing and pronouncing “This is what you should see from us” — or, more simply: “This is how we do things around here”.  

Unfortunately, most companies lack the proper methodology for developing and implementing these prescriptive and pronounced values. Some leaders have good intention behind these efforts, while others have only adopted specific cultural principles as a facade to appeal to what they believe is of interest to consumers, suppliers, or investors. Therefore, they have zero Cultural Integrity. What they have failed to realize is that you cannot fake culture!

Cultural Consistency (The Bees):

Management behaviors that are not linked and aligned to the organization’s Value System need to be weeded out over time and replaced with behavioral actions that effectively demonstrate these cultural Values. For example, if Trust is a primary Value, then the management team must all learn to communicate and interact in ways that are 100% aligned with that company’s definition of Trust.  

A company’s leadership team is solely responsible for infusing the organization with the essential management behaviors that comprise its organizational Values. Most importantly, both leaders and employees need a level of cultural implementation that they can identify, articulate, and “point to” regarding behaviors managers demonstrate to power the organization’s culture. Meaning employees can, in fact, describe the key behaviors associated with each Value. These behaviors will serve as the framework for what all employees expect to give and receive between one another.

Moreover, management behaviors that accurately demonstrate the organizational values must be common, if not identical, across managers.  The idea of “One Culture” implies this; “One” meaning same, common, collective, connected. This is the only path to cultural consistency where employees can expect similar behaviors from manager to manager.  This is the only way employees can experience a common culture.  Otherwise, you will have as many company cultures (or subcultures) as you have managers, displaying their own variant of the desired common culture. Even worse, you’ll have managers treating employees differently due to each employees’ definition of a particular Value.  

More specifically, if each manager engages others in a manner that is unique to each employees’ expectation, you can rest assured this inconsistency in a leader’s approach to engaging one’s employees is a sure-fire way to immediately instill inequity. In either case, the result is a company culture that has management behavior that is not representative of the company’s definition of the Value.

Once you have adopted this basic understanding and application of the principles of Cultural Integrity and Cultural Consistency, it is time to consider the Sex of Culture.  

1. Cultural Foreplay (Romantic Vs. Unromantic)

Romantic – Putting time and thoughtfulness into planning, designing, implementing, and cultivating the environment for the company culture that you desire.

Unromantic – Taking actions, in haste, to attempt to implement the culture you desire without cultivating the environment within which this culture should occur. Front-line leaders perceive an unromantic approach as: “Here are the values, good luck managing on your own. We will revisit in a year with your employees’ opinions and feelings on how well you are doing”.

A lack of cultural foreplay leaves managers wondering what they need to do to integrate and adopt the company culture you desire. There is a lack of cultural consciousness — an awareness of the organization’s foundation, existence, surroundings — like incense burning in the room. Business leaders must set the tone (or, the “mood”) for your company culture through effective planning, design, and implementation of the company’s values system, behavioral expectations, and consistent learning, practice, and continuous improvement of the engagements and interactions that perpetuate the company culture. 

2. Cultural Positioning (Dominant vs Submissive)

Is your organization’s approach to culture “top-down” or “bottom-up”? Your company has adopted a top-down culture if the senior leaders take responsibility for ensuring each manager has the foundational understanding, skills, and proficiency to exhibit and practice the behaviors needed to correctly embody the Values System of your company – across all interactions.

Your company has adopted a bottom-up culture if the organizations’ leadership communicates the company Values without any development and implementation of these Values at the frontline. Bottom-based cultures most often rely exclusively on some form of employee feedback and response system to evaluate the effectiveness of their managers’ behaviors.  

Unfortunately, survey responses are typically determined by each employee’s own definition of each cultural Value and associated leadership behaviors based on their own personal experience. The fundamental flaw with this approach is each employee’s definition of a particular Value might not be the same as the company’s definition of this Value. Thus, rendering the employee’s evaluation as a misaligned and ineffective tool to assess and measure the company culture you are working towards. This is the #1 reason why employee engagement survey scores have remained stagnant for the past decade! 

3. Cultural Performance (vs. Cultural Dysfunction)

An organization’s lack of cultural performance is typically related to their leadership team’s inability to adopt and follow the right process of behavioral implementation, measurement, and improvement. Cultural dysfunction is rooted in lowered competence and confidence among organizational leaders. 

A lack of cultural competence stems from the absence of a systematic process for managing company culture. Cultural competence speaks to the degree to which an organization successfully and efficiently manages and consistently practices leadership behaviors and interactions toward its ideal cultural state. An organization’s ability to consistently and effectively manifest the behaviors that exemplify its culture will dictate the outcomes of its cultural performance. 

A lack of cultural confidence refers to the degree to which an organization’s leadership knows that the right behaviors, and stated values and goals, are truly implemented. Furthermore, a leader’s cultural confidence stems from one’s personal feeling or belief that they can rely on his or her understanding and ability to apply the right behaviors that embody the value systems that make up the company culture.  

4. Cultural Stamina (vs. “Five Minute” Culture)

Cultural stamina refers to an organization’s ability to sustain its culture beyond the marketized elements or circumstantial focus leaders sometimes place on its values, behaviors, and interactions. Cultural stamina is required to ensure long-term sustainability of the culture you desire for your organization. Business leaders focus on sustaining systems and processes that they consider most important to their business outcomes. For example, a common process that works well at most companies is Payroll.  Why does it work so well?  Because it is important. Incorrect inputs and outputs are typically immediately resolved. Business leaders must view cultural sustainability in the same way as any other key processes that are sustained every day. Adherence to the cultural processes, systems, and behavioral requirements should be non-negotiable. Achieving cultural sustainability requires a high level of leader and employee consciousness regarding execution of these processes. They must all be defined, understood, measured, and actively managed for the right execution.  

We hope you had fun with this piece. Company culture is a hot topic, and one that we often address with a sense of urgency, tenacity, and intensity. However, we want leaders to understand that managing your company culture does not have to be as complicated a process as it may seem. With commitment, practice and a focus on continuous improvement, your ability to achieve the company culture you desire is within reach. As Marvin Gaye once put it: “Let’s Get It On” … with realizing your company culture vision, of course!

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About the Author

Dr. Donte Vaughn, DM, MSM, Culture Performance Management Advisor
Dr. Donte Vaughn, DM, MSM

Chief Culture Officer

Dr. Donte Vaughn is CEO of CultureWorx and Culture Performance Management Advisor to POWERS.

Randall Powers, Founder, Managing Partner
Randall Powers

Managing Partner

Randall Powers concentrates on Operational and Financial Due Diligence, Strategic Development,, and Business Development.