The word culture is derived from the Latin word “colere” which means to tend to the earth and grow or cultivate and nurture.

Culture is so simple yet can be complex to change. It is invisible, but most powerful when it is visible. It is spoken, and it is also unspoken. It is internal but also felt externally. It is form and substance. It is found in the halls and walls but also in hearts and minds. It is organizational and personal. It is hard to integrate culture but easy for it so disintegrate without nurturing.

Culture Alignment

Every organization has a culture by default. Few organizations have a culture by design.

In a Korn Ferry survey, nearly three-quarters of executives described culture as being extremely important to organizational performance, only a third said that their culture was fully aligned with their business strategy.

When we are aligned, we are working in accordance with each other. Even when an organization has intentionally aligned its culture as part of its strategy, change naturally forces cultural misalignment. The more a changing organization wants to keep its culture the same, the more it must change what it does.

Culture can be a complex topic, with consultants drawing wall-sized models to explain cultural dynamics. As Warren Buffet said, “There seems to be some perverse human characteristic that likes to make easy things difficult.” Healthy leaders understand complex concepts like culture and boil them down into simple terms. For example, designing culture can be expressed with a simple, two-word formula:


It’s that simple. Organizations are comprised of human beings, and humans are predictable and virtually always do what they are reinforced to do. So, if you reinforce behavior A, that is what you will get. It is not uncommon for leaders to express frustration with the behaviors of their teams, when the same behavior is exactly what they are reinforcing. For example, they might be frustrated by siloed, non-collaborative behavior while that is what their compensation system is rewarding.

So, as you design an aligned culture, the question is, “Which behaviors do I want to see more of to help meet the needs of our stakeholders?”

Don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater as you align your culture. Rarely is a culture completely misaligned with all stakeholder needs, so be sure to honor the past by preserving what is working. Shift to the future by reinforcing selected, new behaviors.

Start by aligning (or realigning) your cultural systems with behaviors that support the needs of your stakeholders. Cultures are created and reinforced by these 12 cultural systems:

  1. Values
  2. Leadership mindset and practices
  3. Communications
  4. Well-being support
  5. Rules and policies
  6. Goals and measures
  7. Rewards and recognition
  8. Staffing and selection
  9. Training and development
  10. Ceremonies and events
  11. Physical environment
  12. Organizational structure

Aligning these systems with your stakeholder needs closes the gap between stated and operating culture so you can achieve workplace integrity.

These cultural systems must be aligned vertically and horizontally with:

  • The needs of your stakeholders (vertical alignment) and
  • other culture systems so they reinforce each other and do not contradict (horizontal alignment).

For example, a company that values innovation wants to vertically align their employee selection system by designing it to hire innovative thinkers and then reinforce innovative behavior once they arrive with appropriate reward systems.

This same organization must create horizontal alignment by ensuring the above 12 systems are reinforcing innovative behaviors and not inadvertently squelching it with bureaucratic decision making or communication systems.

When your culture is aligned people thrive because there are no friction points between what is said and what is done. All energy is spent on growth versus. being confined the by weeds of contradiction

So, throw out the complex models of culture design, and keep it simple: Culture = Behavior.

Please call us at 214-789-8053 if we can help you design or refine a culture that works for your company.