Shaping Culture

One of the Workgroup said, “The middle is the best place to change things.” When you don’t have the CEO’s authority, you must be in touch, thoughtful and authentic.

You can’t force change, but you can lead by example.

Top Three

  • Being forced to work remotely forced thinking hard about culture
  • While culture is hard to define precisely, it’s easy to know if you’ve got a good one
  • There are lots of tested near- and long-term practices for energizing culture


  • Nathan Bares
  • Jen Guilette
  • Brian Sauer
  • Mallory Sawyer
  • Paul Stokes
  • Paul Sukenik
  • Derrick Van Mell (facilitator)

How to wreck culture and trust in Under 5 minutes

It’s frighteningly easy to wreck culture, to set back retention, productivity and recruitment.

  • Hire someone who doesn’t fit
  • Let negativity fester
  • Botch a social event
  • Accept “that’s just the way we always do it”

Three test questions of culture

Defining culture is tough (from The GM Index: 5.2.3 Corporate culture), but all managers need to have a feel for it.

  • Is there a positive vibe?
  • Do people fear their managers?
  • Can you see meaningful collaboration?

Near-term practices

Teams change, culture evolves and people get bored, so try new things.

  • But above all, listen. Set an example of compassion. Be transparent.
  • As manager, make a personal connection to each person
  • Invest time together to not talk about work, to let people banter and build rapport
  • Read a book together
  • Create project teams that let people get to know each other

Long-term practices

  • Keep organizations flat, to let executives be approachable
  • Ensure the decision-making groups represent the organization (DEI)
  • Break up cliques of long-term employees
  • Review the reward and recognition systems: Are they aligned to mission and values?
  • Provide a clear career path
  • Provide the right physical environment. Setting is more important than ever.
  • Use the orientation process to engage new people
  • Make sure the work remains meaningful—and that people know it.
  • Survey and track results—and be sure to show you listened and cared

Reward in the land of gray

One member said, “middle managers live in a land of gray,” where nothing’s ever 100% done or 100% clear. But good managers aren’t upset by people being people, and find their reward in helping people enjoy meaningful work in a culture of collaboration.

Relevant Terms

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