Corporate Culture Part Two; Creating Your Vision

07/20/2011 04:11 pm ET | Updated Sep 19, 2011

My recent post, What the Heck is Corporate Culture, has been keeping me busy in online forums I frequent. Lots of coaches, trainers, business owners and employees weighed in on the topic and the replies ranged from off the cuff wisecracks to thoughtful and insightful contributions to the topic. At times I wished I hadn't engaged in the conversation, at others I think I've made some great contacts for the future.

The purpose of the series, though, hasn't changed. I suggest, and this comes from personal experience and daily efforts, that focusing on corporate culture can be the 'big tool' in the tool box to create lasting change and positive results, not only in individual companies but in the overall picture of American corporate development.

I began the last posting mentioning how the new owners of the company at which I was the Chief Training Officer, in charge of training and cultural development, didn't know what the heck 'cultural development' was. The 'proof is in the pudding' (whatever that means), but the fact is that the new owners never invested in culture clearly contributes to the fact that they've since suffered severe cutbacks in personnel and there is, after three years, barely a remnant of the organization we worked so hard to create.

As an active coach on several internet forums I get occasional emails from employees who feel they have nowhere to go to voice concerns, escape bullying from their boss or just to share that they've given up. This one came in this week: "If you were here it would break your heart. No team, no family, no culture. It really is all about how to kill or be killed."

Well, it's not inspiring, but it is true then that the culture is 'how to kill or be killed' because even that one employee believes it to be so. Rather than reading this and shaking your head let me ask you, 'If your employees had a chance to speak without fear of recrimination, what would they say about your company?'

Here's my offering to help you create a corporate culture that works, hoping that you will give it serious thought for the sake of your employees, for the sake of the health of your company and for the greatest common good - a thoughtful and purposeful workplace for all.

Simply put; a culture is the story of the company. The story, though, is not done, although we do have the 'back story'. It includes the events as in when the company was founded, what the original intent, product or service entailed and how they've developed over the years. All of those events are the underpinnings of your culture and are the 'history' you can't deny or change ('spin' maybe, but change, no).

Then as in any story, we also have the 'heroes', and these include those who are part of that legend as either founders, high performers, change makers, owners, managers and, in short, shaped the present by their actions. The heroes, and I hesitate to get into the discussion of the possibility that some were actually 'villains' right now, are in the past and in the present. If you shape culture, you are on the list.

But as I said, the culture is not only the story up till now but the story as you want it to be in the future. That's where 'vision' comes in.

I like to share in my seminars that 'every saint has a past and every sinner a future' and, no matter what has gone on with the company till now, there is a great deal and by that I mean a LOT that can be done with a compelling and inspirational vision. But this can be where some of the conversations bog down.

Many people in the forums and discussion seemed to feel that the culture of the company was the conditions/events/attitudes and belief systems that could be observed in the here and now and there wasn't much to do about it. Well, let's go back to the quote, 'Every saint has a past...'

It was one of the most upsetting aspects of the conversations held over the past few days that so many people said 'That's just the way it is' and seemed to believe there was no changing it; pretty disempowering, eh? You see, in the forums with coaches and trainers I expected them to be fully invested in the possibility (I am a Chief Possibility Officer now, you know) that they could affect, shape and grow a culture, reaping untold benefits from their efforts.

I want them to be 'sold' on the idea that we can transform the world of business into one where people count, where quality of work/life issues are discussed and where there exists a clear vision that creates a balance between profit at all costs and a survival mode reality. If the coaches and the trainers haven't sipped the Kool Aid, who will?

When you say, 'this is where the company came from and these are the facts that have made us who we are now and, with all of that, we're setting our sites to become a better place to work . . .' you're setting the culture. Combine your words with real strategies, committed actions and a willingness to overcome whatever stops you or slows you down and you have a culture of growth and you're leveraging a very, very effective tool.

Remember that saying so doesn't make it so, a plan (including a good coach) with measurable and timely goals will help and it doesn't pay to let people draw you backwards when they say 'can't be done' or offer the ever pithy white flag of defeatist attitudes, 'It's just another flavor of the day initiative'. It all begins with creating the vision and stating it, so just start there.

Of course, in this venue I'm not listing all of the good and bad cultures we readily see around us, this isn't an academic pursuit, and I apologize to anyone who wants more 'dirt' and suggest that there are many great books on the topic for those who are more serious minded about it.

I'd love to keep the conversation about corporate culture going and invite your comments.