Hi there. What’s your day been like? Meetings? Deadlines? Buzzwords?
Oh yeah, I hear that. In my newsroom, back when I was a journalist, we used to make fun of the worst corporate-speak press releases that came in. They were chock-full of business clichés like “leveraging synergies” and “thinking outside the box” and “win-win situation.”
But the most frustrating one for me was “corporate culture.” It was as if culture were an immovable force, a wilderness that you’re air-dropped into. Somehow, as the employee, you’ve got to survive it.
But I don’t buy it.
I see corporate culture not as something that comes at you, like a ball thrown for you to catch, but as something you constantly create and affect, like being in a swimming pool, making ripples of your own.
You heard me: you are responsible for your corporate culture. Not leadership. Not your manager. You.
I told you a while ago in Guiding by Goals that I developed a list of three business goals in response to a challenging colleague. Last on the list was “Thrive in a positive and professional work environment.”
But when that colleague was finally out of the picture, I realized I was wrong.
My goal assumed culture was something thrust upon me, something I had to react to. But it didn’t credit my ability to change things, to make the company I’m in become the company I intend. So I changed my goal. My new goal is this: Lead culture and best practices.
Let me give you an example of leading culture. This summer, I partnered with our Chief Information Officer to present a fun lunch-and-learn to our corporate team called “Apps & Apps.” I demonstrated six appetizers (I adore cooking), and the CIO demonstrated a bunch of cool apps for iPad and iPhone.
It was a hit! So many colleagues said it was the most fun program they’d seen. More importantly, I think it shifted the company culture just a little bit further toward what I intend—a place where everyone has something interesting to contribute, where we enjoy each other and have fun learning together.
I’m sure you feel like sometimes your corporate culture is lacking. Maybe your sense is that everyone’s got their head down, grinding under project deadlines, budget cutbacks and political wrangling that can truly take your eye off the ball of what’s important.
Out for drinks with colleagues one night, someone asked me how I’d handle a particularly cranky set of folks who never seemed like they enjoyed work or each other. What would I do?
“Forget ‘em,” I said (or another word starting with F), speaking from my gut and shocking myself as much as I did them. And then, I added this quote from another colleague: “You can’t get blood from a rock.”
My point is this: you can spin your wheels forever trying to “get everyone on the same page,” “achieve buy-in” or any number of other business clichés. Or you can just be who you were meant to be: a positive, dynamic, inspiring influence on the culture of your company.
I love the quote, “Don’t try to win over the haters. You are not the jerk whisperer.” (Another good blog on this here.) So that’s where I draw the line on creating culture—be the influence, but be OK with the fact that not everyone will follow.
That’s because some people show up for work and are unprepared to participate in culture. They see it as happening to them, and if they don’t like it, chances are they’re living in resignation and resentment, a hole they’re not likely to climb out of.
Take a risk. Throw ‘em a rope, be your authentic self, live the culture and values you intend to spread throughout the organization. You’ll surprise yourself with followers. And who knows? The haters might just come around, too. (I keep talking to those cranky people, thinking, Someday….)
Take 15 minutes to go affect your corporate culture by being the kind of person you want your whole company to be—inspiring, polite, thankful, collaborative, fun, engaging, risk-taking, authentic. Don’t wait for someone else to take the cultural reins. GO.