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Culture is the cornerstone of an organization

Organizational culture is the way people will behave in the absence of direct instruction.

Lots of type-A leaders tend to ignore the culture of their organization thinking that people just need to buck up and do great work. This may feel like it makes sense—but work is messy—each individual has their own sets of fears, temptations, inefficiencies, and strengths.

One of the biggest roles of a leader is creating an ideal culture for doing the type of work at hand. In construction or a factory it may make sense to be hard on the workers and force them to be focused and highly disciplined. Success in these fields is often measurable. In most organizations individuals contribute in ideas and knowledge work. Ideas and knowledge grow in a carefully tended culture, and tend to die off quickly when not cared for.

This morning in the New York Times a Goldman Sachs Executive wrote an op-ed condemning the culture of his company and resigning. There is much a leader can learn from this public appeal.

It might sound surprising to a skeptical public, but culture was always a vital part of Goldman Sachs’s success. It revolved around teamwork, integrity, a spirit of humility, and always doing right by our clients. The culture was the secret sauce that made this place great and allowed us to earn our clients’ trust for 143 years. It wasn’t just about making money; this alone will not sustain a firm for so long.

What do you as a leader incentivize? Incentives can come in the form of money, praise, promotion, addition of responsibility, respect, time, etc.

How did we get here? The firm changed the way it thought about leadership. Leadership used to be about ideas, setting an example and doing the right thing. Today, if you make enough money for the firm (and are not currently an ax murderer) you will be promoted into a position of influence.

It’s interesting that the executive points out that it’s in the leadership process that the culture changed. As the organization grew and changed the right culture was not passed down—it became about dollars and not service.

Even if your team is just one volunteer it’s important to create a productive culture.


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