Jeff Judy

Jeff's Thoughts - June 27 , 2018

The Culture Cycle

If you have been following this e-zine for a while, or have attended some of my training or speaking events, you're probably aware that I believe culture is a key element of success or failure over the long term. When you think about culture, it is easy to fall back on things like mission statements and list of values.

But when I say "culture", I'm referring to "how we actually do things around here," the real practices rather than the official view of what is supposed to be happening. And I'm particularly interested in how consistent those practices are across locations, across functions, and throughout the organization's hierarchy from front lines to C-suite. In a "tight" culture, credit is handled the same way throughout the institution. Furthermore, communication is frequent and effective, so that when there is a change in strategy or practices, that change spreads quickly and effectively.

Over the years I've seen a regular cycle of interest in culture, a waxing and waning of culture discussions, culture training, and explicit culture management among my clients. And that culture cycle runs counter to the business cycle.

I'm sure you have seen this in your own experience. When times are bad, a lot of attention is paid to how things are done and to making sure everyone meets the same standards. When times are good, culture recedes into the background, with little active culture management.

And that's precisely the reason that when the next downturn hits, institutions find themselves slow to respond to the change in conditions. Communication, consistency, adherence to guidelines and standards has gotten lax, and bringing everyone back on the same page to deal with the crisis sucks up valuable time and resources.

So I encourage you to break the cycle. The economy is good right now, and instead of letting things slide, ramp up your vigilance about standards and values a bit. Take a look at how consistent your practices are across locations and functions. Make sure people are responding to communications. Basically, make sure everyone is aware of the need to take culture seriously, right now, when there are not any big problems looming on the horizon.

After all, good cultures are not only valuable in bad times. A "tight" culture, one where consistency and communication (both ways) are continually reinforced, makes for a nimble institution. If your culture helps changes in strategy or policy spread quickly throughout the organization, you can react more quickly and effectively to changes in your market. A well-managed culture provides a significant competitive advantage in good times ... and the means to achieve some measure of success in bad times.

Don't let standards and practices slide while problems are rare. Take the cycle out of your culture. Maintaining your desired culture is one of the best ways to ensure that, in good times as well as bad, you outperform your competitors.