Just as a healthy garden will not exist without careful gardening and constant attention, a healthy culture does not happen by accident. Culture is the shared beliefs and values that guide a group of people. Left alone, culture deteriorates. Wise and loving leaders cultivate the culture in which they are leading. If leaders fail to cultivate the culture, they are ignoring the environment that the people they serve alongside must live in, and of course, this greatly and adversely impacts the people the organization or ministry is designed to serve. Here are eleven actions for culture cultivation:
1. Don’t underestimate the power of culture.
Culture is more powerful than most leaders realize. The culture is always teaching, always communicating, and always driving decision-making, actions, and behaviors.
2. Understand your culture is unique.
No two people are the same, and if a culture is the shared values of a group of people, then surely no culture is exactly the same as another. The reason it is foolish to copy and paste values from another culture into yours is that the culture you are leading is unique.
3. Lead from within your culture.
If you attempt to import some other culture’s values without understanding the affirmable values in your culture, you are not leading where you are. You are leading a group of people that exist in your mind, not the ones you have agreed to shepherd and serve.
4. Define the values that will drive the culture.
Healthy cultures have values that people can believe in and attach themselves to. Jim Collins has advocated that healthy organizations possess mission, values, and goals—but he has articulated values to be the most important (link). Great organizations are absolutely clear on their values and insistent that they should deeply impact everything. http://www.jimcollins.com/article_topics/articles/aligning-action.html
5. Starve the bad values.
Every culture has bad values lurking beneath the surface. These must be pulled or starved. In a garden, you don’t want to give the nutrients to the weeds. You starve the weeds and feed the flowers that you want to grow and blossom. In the same way, don’t feed the bad values with praise or with resources. Give the energy and attention to the actual values that should be affirmed and the aspirational values you long to see in the culture.
6. Live the values you have declared.
A leader’s life is a stronger message than a leader’s words. If you want values to take root in your culture, they must be visible in your life.
7. Celebrate the values.
Plato famously said, “Whatever is celebrated in a country is cultivated there.” As you celebrate stories of the values being expressed in the lives of the people, the values will take deeper root.
8. Teach the values.
Over time words can lose their meaning as people assign different meanings to them. So you must teach the values, continually reminding the people “this is who we are.”
9. Confront violations of the values.
When a violation of a shared value is continually ignored, the culture deteriorates. Over time, it is clear that the value hanging on the wall is just empty words with no expectation for the value to actually be lived out.
10. Recruit based on values.
As you bring people to your team, ensure the person believes in the values that drive your culture. If the person would need to become someone different to fit in your culture, it is not a fit.
11. Continually monitor the culture under your care.
You can learn about and continually monitor a culture by observing what is really important. What are the stories that are told that reveal what is important? What is prayed about? What is funded? What are the hallway conversations really about?