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Culture is…? How to Create a High Performing Culture

According to our marketing partner –Preactive Marketing – the phrase “culture is…” generates roughly 20 million global hits. This indicates it is quite a popular topic and that people are interested in what culture is – and why having a high performance one is important.

We’ll share our thoughts, though we also prefer to hear from you, so share your opinion!

Culture has different meanings to different people – so how would you finish the sentence – Culture is…

I would finish it something like this:

The shared assumptions, values and beliefs of a group of people. The way in which a group of people solves problems. – Geert Hofstede

Wise words from good ol Geert. The term culture has many meanings. Whether written as a mission statement, spoken, or just understood, organizational culture describes and governs the ways a company’s leaders, employees, customers and stakeholders think, feel and act. Culture may be based on beliefs or spelled out in your mission statement.

Simply put – culture can be defined as, “the way work gets done around here. Organizations can’t excel for the long term if they don’t have a high performance culture – for more on the aspects of creating and maintaining a high performing culture – check out our whitepaper – What is a High Performance Culture? Creating a culture that supports long term growth and sustainability.


Why is your organizational culture so important?

  • Culture has a direct impact on employee performance, engagement and retention, and thus also a direct impact on innovation, customer satisfaction, and bottom line revenue. For example, a culture of poor communication, lack of transparent and authentic leadership, abuse of power, and inflexible structures and processes is most likely a culture that would not be categorized as high performance or sustainable for the long term ; As this type of environment wouldn’t make employees want to give their best and thus negatively impact the bottom line.
  • On the flip side, however, a positive culture can drive high performance and to create an environment of innovation and sustainability. Organizations that have flexible processes and structures which help facilitate cross communication; encouraging people to share ideas and concerns with leadership usually excel. If people enjoy working for your organization then in most cases they give 100% engagement toward helping the company succeed.
  • Culture is the identity of a company, and because of that, in some ways it becomes an identity of those who work there, as well. The people end up affecting the culture as much as the culture is affecting them. So while there are many definitions of organizational culture, all of them focus on the same points: collective experience, structures, beliefs, values, norms, and systems. These are learned and re-learned, passed on to new employees, and continues on as part of a company’s core identity.

An agency or company’s culture says a lot about an organization and the direction they are headed – success or failure can hinge on culture. In the words of another organizational culture guru:

The only thing of real importance that leaders do is to create and manage culture. If you do not manage culture, it manages you, and you may not even be aware of the extent to which this is happening.” – Edgar Schein

So – culture is how “work gets done around here.” To get work done well a positive culture is needed for organizational, employee, and customer satisfaction and success. And who doesn’t want to be success!

About Scott Span, MSOD: is President of Tolero Solutions Organizational Development & Change Management firm. He helps clients to facilitate sustainable growth by developing people and organizations to be more responsive, focused, productive and profitable.

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David Dejewski

Culture is a force of nature. It’s an important phenomenon to study if you want to be successful in the change management business or to lead people well.

I did some work in grad school many years ago on this subject. I theorized that culture can be, to some extent, predicable & that change managers can prepare in advance for challenges different cultures will present to a change initiative.

By using personality inventories like Meyers Briggs, we can get a sense of what personality types will be attracted to certain job types. Books like Type Talk At Work map personality types to jobs and to challenges employees typically face based on their personality. By mapping this information to the 10 challenges described by Peter Senge in The Dance of Change that are faced by organizations during an change initiative, we can derive both a strategy and a plan of attack for dealing with given culture.

There are only two personality types that are drawn to forrest ranger work, for example. If we want to lead a change management initiative with a group of forrest rangers, we can examine those two personality types ahead of time. We will find that, among other things, they don’t like to lead and they don’t like to follow. Knowing this, we can run the list of Senge’s challenges and predict where we are most likely to run into trouble if we try to conduct a change initiative in that organization.

I’ve done change management initiatives in five different organizations. I threw in the towel on the sixth because they were way too far into a death spiral (that agency was eventually closed, in fact). In all cases, I found a study of the most common personality types to be useful. There is a correlation in my mind between personality types and culture.

Scott Span


I’m familiar with all the theories and tools you mention. In addition I find FIRO-B valuable as well as Bridges theory on change and transition. Organizations have personalities, just like the people who work in them, and the personalities of those people influence the culture of the organization. When working with culture and change I often stress to clients – know the culture of your organization and hire people who have the personality to be a cultural fit, not just a skills match.