Last week, I heard a leader say,
“Organizational culture is not something leaders are responsible to create. Culture just happens.”
Unfortunately, he is both right and wrong. Culture does just happen, by default, if leaders are not careful to intentionally foster a healthy culture through their influence. I believe it is the responsibility of executive leaders to cultivate the atmosphere and values that team members align with on their team. In fact, this is of primary importance.
Research experiments dating back over fifty years illustrate the importance of culture and context for people’s behavior:
• Nearly 60% of Princeton Divinity students, despite having heard the parable of the Good Samaritan, declined to help an apparently injured man while walking across campus because they were asked to hurry to deliver a sermon—on the Good Samaritan parable!
• In a Yale experiment, almost two thirds of subjects acting as teachers administered excessive electric shocks to actors playing students who made mistakes.
• At Stanford, students acting as jail guards quickly began to behave abusively toward a group of “prisoners.”
• In New York City researchers noted that people who witnessed a mugging on the streets were twice as apt to call for help if they believed they were the only one who saw the crime. If those people felt there were others watching the incident, they tended to leave the action to someone else.
Let’s face it. Our environment affects how we behave. Context and culture play a huge role in how I feel and act and relate to those around me. This is why leaders must create an environment that brings the best out in people. Good people can eventually do bad things, and vice versa (despite the morals we say we embrace) when in an environment that conditions us to do so.
So, here’s my question for you: If you are an administrator or executive—what kind of culture are you creating on your campus or organization? If you’re a teacher, what kind of culture have you fashioned in your classroom? If you’re a coach, what kind of team culture have you shaped or allowed to happen? If you’re a parent, what culture have you fostered at home?
If you agree with me—how do you create culture?