Know Your 4 Company Cultures

Earlier this month SmartBrief on Leadership Editor James DaSilva wrote a brilliant post titled “Here’s Why You Can’t Fix Your Culture Problems”.

In the article, DaSilva mentioned how companies, especially large companies, have many cultures within them. It described how these other cultures may work against the core company culture and cause challenges that work against the culture you are attempting to establish.

Elaborating a little further on this premise, I believe every company has 4 cultures within it, no matter how large or small they are. These cultures exist with or without steps to mitigate or leverage their impact on the organization.

  • Core Culture
  • Local Culture
  • Sub-culture
  • Counter-culture

Core Culture is the overall values of the organization. It’s the culmination of the mission and vision and the embodiment of the behaviors that drive towards that mission. Every company has a core culture, and every company should have it written and defined to govern the vision and behaviors of the individuals and collective teams within it. On paper, core culture should be the strongest guiding force of your organization.

Local Culture are those cultures that are organic due to geographic differences, such as diverse teams and remote workforces. Those “local cultures” that DaSilva points out need to be acknowledged and folded into the larger core culture picture. These are variations due to the chemistry, diversity and skills of the people in those local teams. They bring a unique flavor and perspective that rounds out our core culture and brings it to life.

Sub Culture are those cultures that become a behavioral derivative of the core culture. Sub cultures take root different reasons and manifest in differing forms. They drift from the core for rationales such as but not limited to misinterpreting the core vision, adapting to market of procedural forces, expediency in efficiencies or profitability, or disguising an agenda to veer goals off course. Sub cultures are not necessarily bad, as some may actually enhance the core of the company, such as an innovative R&D department or a remote team that resolves to leverage the brand into a larger and more impactful reach. Each leader should know what sub-cultures exist within their organization, and ensure that they have the needed guardrails to stay on course but the sandbox flexibility to adapt to meet a need on the fly.

Counter Culture is the more threatening of the four cultures. Counter cultures are the deliberate attempt to undermine mission, sabotage agendas, and take the organization in a markedly drastic direction. Counter cultures are not readily overt; many times they exist layers down and lock in over years of erosion through policies, practices, and/or personnel that reveal their motives at a strategic moment. This happens quite often through takeover bids,  coups, and adoption of policies or campaigns that create the tectonic shift away from core culture.

As DaSilva pointed out, the incremental nature of bad behavior, or non-core cultural behavior, is poor rationalization. Having a strong culture means having a commonly connected vision that is communicated continually. Having a great culture is being able to discern what balance of cultures exist in your organization, addressing their needs, and leading them to a positive impact through the lens of your established mission.

(image: pixaby)



Don’t Cook Your Culture Frog


You may be familiar with the analogy story of placing a frog in boiling water. But if not, here’s the anecdote, as referenced from Wikipedia:

The boiling frog is a parable describing a frog being slowly boiled alive. The premise is that if a frog is put suddenly into boiling water, it will jump out, but if the frog is put in tepid water which is then brought to a boil slowly, it will not perceive the danger and will be cooked to death. The story is often used as a metaphor for the inability or unwillingness of people to react to or be aware of threats that arise gradually.

So in relation to organizational culutre, my question to you is:

Is your culture cooked because no one percieved the danger around them?

Business history is replete with Enrons and Worldcoms deteriorating from a poor culture that grew rampant from within. Likewise, many nations have collapsed from having their culture diluted – think the Roman Empire on these lines.

We all have had our experiences with organizations that cooked their cultural frog. I myself worked for a company that was hijacked from the top by going counter to what the company’s founder and his employees worked hard to establish. By the time he realized what was going on, it was too late to reverse course and the company is now a shell of what it once was.

To prevent gradual heat from cooking your organization’s culture, here are some questions to ask yourself as a guide to keeping your cuklture pure and intact:

  • Ensure your culture is promoted and marketed constantly throughout your company
  • Don’t allow personalities or behaviors to come in and slowly erode your culture
  • Measure every employee and leader through objective culture measures
  • Mark the non-negotiable that cannot shift on your core values
  • Ensure all business ventures, partnerships, and strategic alignments meet your cultural criteria
  • The higher level of scope or responsibility, the larger the scale of checks-and-balances and accountability
  • Make quick work (ie – cut loose) any individual who displays counter-culture behaviors
  • Don’t compromise, or as Jim Collins says, preserve the core
  • Hold open communication to allow the orgnaizaiton to mention any variations or concerns
  • Objectively discern what behaviors may threaten to veer the vision off course

If this sounds like fairy tale business with no realty in today’s marketplace, I urge you to read this piece on the Market Basket takeover battle of 2014. In a battle that led one cousin to strip the other cousin of his role in order to takeover the grocery chain and bolster profits, the employees protested without working for weeks and brought the chain to it’s knees. this ultimately led to the favored cousin’s reinstatement and return to the company culture that made it a solid brand among it’s employees and customers.

Be steadfast and discerning about your culture. Stay vigilant to ensure what impact you’ve set out to make is seen through continually.

(image: pixaby)

(boiling frog source: wikipedia)

(market basket article: bbc)

Growing Pains – Guest Post By Art Barter

The pigs are running the farm. So begins the story of Farmer Able. Everyone on his farm — people and animals alike — are downright downtrodden by him. He’s overbearing and compulsively obsessed with profits and productivity. He’s a typical top-down, power-based manager, forever tallying production numbers in his well-worn ledgers. But the more he pushes the hoofs and horns and humans, the more they dig in their heels. That is until one day when he hears a mysterious wind that whispers: “It’s not all about me.” Can he turn things around and begin attending to the needs of those on his farm, thus improving their attitudes and productivity?

The following is an excerpt from chapter 18 of Farmer Able by Art Barter. Art’s been widely known as a tremendous pioneer in transforming culture and leadership into servant-led organizations. We ‘re happy to have Art contribute this post from his book that launched earlier this year.


Despite this setback, Farmer Able still believed his newfound approach would be quickly embraced and adopted. But change isn’t easy. The ripple of discontent had already started with Foreman Ryder. Over the next few days, that creek persisted to rise.

“Me and Ernie can only plant what’s been plowed and disked,” Ryder said to Farmer Able when he came in from the field. The arrangement all spring had been one plowed the field, one disked it and one planted it. But now Farmer Able was off on what Ryder referred to as “a hare-brained goose chase.” (Ernie heard the mixed metaphor in this, but wisely chose not to point it out to Ryder.)

In Ryder’s mind, the readying and planting were falling behind. He had berated Ernie to stay on top of things, micromanaging every moment of his time. But there was only so much back-and-forth in the fields, in any one man, on any given day—and Ryder knew it.

“We’re already working sun up to sun down,” Ryder complained to Farmer Able. “At this rate, there’s acreage not going to get planted in time. And the crops won’t be mature before the autumn frost. You do the math.”

Farmer Able had to smile at this expression: You do the math. He realized that in the past several weeks since the wind and ants had showed up, he hadn’t pulled out his little numbers book in his overalls nor had he penciled in any figures in his office ledger.

Confident he was on the right course, he told Ryder, “You don’t need to stress over this. The numbers will take care of themselves. I think what we’re doing here will pay off.” Farmer Able tried to explain his new purpose. “When you help something else grow, everything grows, including yourself. We’re talking about the greatest good for all.”

“So now the cows and horses are running things?” Ryder groused.

One could almost see the steam coming out the ears of the git-’er-done foreman. He was certainly of no mind to attend to the needs of the hoofs and horns beneath him. After all, they were animals—simply objects to be manhandled.

And though he’d never admit it, that same authoritative mindset extended to the one above him as well. He liked to think he was actually in charge of the one who was in charge of him. He knew how to accomplish all these tasks better than the boss!

But now Ryder had a real problem, because what the boss was asking for wasn’t a task at all. No, this method was a mindset. Farmer Able was simply encouraging Ryder to keep up his good work and the farmer would continue his.

As Ryder watched the farmer clean up the barns and take a hankering to the animals’ wellbeing, he came to despise the beasts even more. For him it came down to “deserving” a thing, and those animals hadn’t “deserved” anything—especially given their falling production numbers, which Ryder was well aware of.

This stuck in his craw, because Ryder had quite the elevated sense of fairness. Never mind that he didn’t see things hypocritical in his own behavior. No, his own shortcomings were easily swept under the rug. Justified and excused—such was the Ryder high court ruling regarding himself—but woe to another if his twisted sense of right was breeched. As far as he saw things, everybody and everything never quite met his standards—leastways the lowly beasts.

With Farmer Able’s newfangled approach, Ryder actually became even more entrenched. In light of the kindness the farmer was showing the animals, Ryder actually ratcheted up his tyranny. He was determined to power through. They “deserved” a swift kick, an extra tug, a yank away from the water trough even when they weren’t done drinking.

The conclusion that infused the herd was simply this: Farmer Able is to blame. One would have to backtrack just a little to understand the cow logic operating here. The herd was already suspicious of Farmer Able’s newfound niceness. They were all just waiting for the other hoof to drop. (A cow, being a quadruped, imagines not just one more hoof could drop, but an additional three. This certainly makes clear the breadth of cow cynicism.)

And drop it did, in the form of Ryder unloading on them. But did these bodacious bovines place the proper blame on Ryder? No. They considered themselves keener than this. They attributed the fault to Farmer Able. They didn’t trust all these changes.

Some of the cows were more certain than ever that having the shed back with its “deep warmth” would be far better. Harry the horse, after getting stung by an especially hard whack from Ryder, cynically concluded that Farmer Able had trimmed his hoofs to get more work out of him. Yes, he could see the true motivation. That kindness was all horse feathers indeed.

The chorus of woe actually grew in spite of Farmer Able’s new approach. Oh, how they longed for “the good old days.”


Art Barter believes everyone can be great, because everyone can serve. To teach about the power of servant leadership, Art started in his own backyard by rebuilding the culture of the manufacturing company he bought, Datron World Communications.  Art took Datron’s traditional power-led model and turned it upside down and the result was the international radio manufacturer grew from a $10 million company to a $200 million company in six years. Fueled by his passion for servant leadership, Art created the Servant Leadership Institute (SLI).

To learn more about Art and his new Servant Leadership Journal, as well as his book on servant leadership, Farmer Able: A Fable About Servant Leadership Transforming Organizations And People From The Inside Out, endorsed by Stephen M.R. Covey, Ken Blanchard , and John C. Maxwell , visit .

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