Many types of cultures exist. Societal culture, workplace culture, cancel culture, and the list goes on. Culture is the belief system, customs, values, and principles that a collection of people share and live out daily. Culture is not easy to pin down. Rather, people describe culture as a feeling. Comments on culture often become a proxy for talking about what’s right or wrong about groups of people.
Every company has a culture. In conversations and interviews with people over the years, the concept of workplace culture always comes up. Last year, one of my biggest projects was to identify why in-store credit card application rates were falling at a national retailer. Aside from technical and process reasons, the main culprit was company culture. Store associates lacked training, had competing demands from management, and didn’t understand the value of the product for customers or themselves.
A few years ago, I attended a management training program. One of the biggest topics covered was how to recognize and handle a toxic employee. This is someone who perceives they’ve been wronged by management and attempts to bring others into their negative space. They spread rumors, gossip, or complaints, and drain the morale of others around them. A toxic employee left unattended will infect your company culture.
During the hiring process at Skookum, several interviewers mentioned how great the culture was at the company. They’d talk about the smart teams of people, the company events, and general tone or mood of the office. There was a specific interview during the process called “The Core Values Interview” where someone in leadership would probe at how closely the candidate aligns to the company’s values. This was an attempt to only hire people who fit the company culture.
On the other side of the table a few months later, I was interviewing some potential new hires at Skookum. I was often one of the first people they spoke to after someone in HR. Invariably, the candidate would say they’ve only heard great things about Skookum’s culture. I’d smile, nod, and wonder how this became such a commonplace idea among people outside these walls. They’d ask what makes the culture so special.
After being dealt this comment and question a few times, I distilled my response:
Culture is created. And, culture is a choice. It is the sets of things we choose to do and believe, especially when things are hard. Culture is the attitude we have when we start the day, how we respond when projects blow up, and the way we treat each other. Culture does not just happen to you. No one on the team is a passive observer of our culture. By definition that passivity contributes to our shared culture because you’re on the team. We choose to create the culture we want.