How Culture Can Build Champions or Hide Heroes!

“If you are lucky enough to be someone’s employer, then you have a moral obligation to make sure people do look forward to coming to work in the morning.”
– John Mackey, Whole Foods Market

There are many individuals who got up this morning unhappy with their current job or position in life. It could be they had great expectations after finishing college, or they decided their previous career was not well-suited for them. Some even went back to school to get an advanced degree, just to find out the degree would not be a cure-all for their disenchantment. Whatever the case may be, there is no shortage of employees who are unhappy with their jobs. According to Gallup, over 70% of workers are unhappy with their place of employment.1 One big cause: Organizational culture.

Enjoy this excerpt from Dr. Jason Carthen’s presentation at the 1st Annual Ultimate Culture Conference. Join our Ultimate Culture Community to view his complete presentation.

Employees point to divisive, harsh, and dictatorial work environments that make their job surroundings very hard to deal with each day they are required to show up. For this reason, I wanted to share three areas that leaders need to be sensitive to as they relate to organizational culture and the long-term positive or negative impact it can have in the organization.

  1. Lessons in leadership & organizational culture: Leaders in organizations set the tempo. If you have a leader that demonstrates an aggressive style, there is a greater likelihood the employees and direct reports will demonstrate the same style (see Upper Echelon leadership theory). Conversely, if a leader is more democratic, the employees will embrace and emulate this style. 2
  2. Culture trumps talent any day of the week: You can be the most talented person in your organization, but if the overwhelming atmosphere is toxic and confrontational, it will not matter: followers will rise or fall based upon what is taking place in their environment. If the leader does not firmly establish a Constructive culture of openness, positive communication, and healthy conflict in the organization, talent will go elsewhere or be rendered ineffective.
  3. Regardless of the organizational context…Culture Matters: This is true whether it is a small organization where everyone knows each other or a large one with thousands of employees; small tweaks to the culture can improve performance and help employees feel like they are part of something and actually have a voice.

At the end of the day, the leader has a responsibility to build champions in his or her organization and stand up for the heroes who want to carry the company’s vision forward. If the leader does not do that, then the followers will eventually walk away or, worse yet, become hidden amongst all their potential.

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In a follow-up response to a participant’s question at the Ultimate Culture Conference, Dr. Jason Carthen responds here: 

Any tips to energize/inform or motivate senior leadership to invest in culture as a tool for positive change?

Great question! One of the key items to energize/inform senior leadership to invest in culture is to identify the added value that will take place due to the cultivation of a healthy vibrant organizational culture. For example, increased value based upon lower staff turnover, greater instances of effective teamwork…which leads to increased productivity, and equals more profit for the company in both the short and long term. You can also fill in your own blanks relative to added value based upon your knowledge of the company’s situation.

Lastly, YOU must champion the cause for intentionality as it relates to culture going forward as a tool for positive change. You see, as you develop a sense of urgency around cultivating a healthy organizational culture, it becomes contagious to your colleagues and peers, senior leadership (if open) will then see this and want to know why it’s important…Bingo, that is your moment because, at minimum, we want the conversation to start there. I hope this helps.

Take care,

Dr. Jason



2 Nishii, Lisa H., Gotte, Anne, & Raver, Jana L. (2007). Upper Echelon Theory Revisited: The Relationship Between Upper Echelon Diversity, the Adoption of Diversity Practices, and Organizational Performance Lisa Hisae Nishii. Ithica NY: Cornell University Working Paper.