07/17/2014 10:53 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Culture: Let It Shine in the Tough Times

Building culture: It's hard in the best of times! When the seas are rough, staying true to our cultural ambitions is all the more difficult.


We can spend a lot of time discussing the culture we want. We can document it. We can communicate it. We can even walk the talk and live it... most of the time.

It is when those big unexpected things happen... the shocks in the system... when we are unprepared and automatically fall into reaction mode (when all the planning threatens to fall apart), that is when we have to be most aware of our actions.

What messages do we send when the organization sees:

  • A critical customer leaving us?
  • A mission critical company project hitting a big snag?
  • One of our best and most critical employees deciding to leave?
  • Our biggest market dropping?
  • Our competitor launching a new product?
  • A company milestone being missed?

These things will happen and often they are unanticipated -- we threaten to fall into reaction mode. But this is when culture matters most. While we often can't anticipate such occurrences, we can plan for them and plan for the proactive communications and actions that need to happen to keep the organization on track.

For example, when one of our critical projects hits a snag/fails or if a valued employee leaves the organization -- how do we communicate that to the organization? What actions are we seen to take? Are they commensurate with the culture of the company we communicate and live?

With our personal leadership styles, in times of crisis or stress, our dominant style naturally emerges. We have to be aware of that so that in those times we can adjust. It is the same with culture. It is in times of stress that the true culture emerges. When we are angry at the failed project, at the employee that leaves at a critical juncture -- do we react angrily? Or do we embrace the culture and step back to treat the situation or employee with the correct urgency & severity, but do so with dignity?

Your culture will be defined in these seminal moments.