22 Jul Character, Culture – And The Ties That Bind
Somewhere in my long and winding journey through the corporate world I stumbled on insights that traveled with me. Like a couple of raw diamonds plucked from a rocky trail, they were rough, covered in mud – and almost invisible to my untrained eye.
I carried them with me for a few years without ever really reflecting on them. Like more than a few other things, I found it easier to stuff them in my pocket and move on.
I had a business to run – there was little time.
But when I finally did consider them I learned something.
I pulled those diamonds out the other day – looked them over and decided ultimately to write about them – maybe because the shadow of COVID seems so oppressive right now.
As a point of context, I spent 38 years in Life Sciences before I started my own consulting company. It was a wild ride – and somewhere around my 7th company downsizing I grew disenfranchised – and angry. I watched quality people being torn away by lay-offs – and I knew my future was in jeopardy too.
I no longer felt aligned philosophically with leaders I did not trust. And so, I finally resolved to find my own path forward – even if it meant leaving that company that I still had allegiances to.
I came to a realization that this very tough moment in my life might turn out to be a gift – that the industry I had chosen seemed to always have another crisis in the wings. I could stamp my feet in frustration – or I could resolve to adapt, improvise, and overcome.
I eventually chose the latter (after the requisite pity party) – and the insights gained formed the basis for 2 diamonds much harder than even the strongest of crises.
- The first insight was the realization that the mettle of my character could only be tested in these moments of adversity – how I responded would either build that character or it would compromise it. For good or bad, my character dictated who I was – and who I was capable of becoming. The decision on how I responded rested with me – not my company.
- The second insight was that the mettle of my company’s culture would also be tested. The impeccably worded hall posters meant little – how we collectively responded would either fine tune our culture or it would destroy it. Culture was the organizational equivalent of character – and it would dictate who we were – and who we were capable of becoming.
For a lot of companies, culture is that thing that happens while we’re all out there trying to run a business.
In my case I could never be completely sure if I was helping build a culture that I would be proud of – or just running a business – until I began to reflect on a few indicators that seemed to make a difference for me.
My questions led to five markers that helped me find my way – and to seek out the positives in even the darkest of circumstances.
Through all the ups and downs of the years that followed – the constant turmoil – and the uncertainty, I found myself going back to them.
How strong is your company’s culture right now?
Before you answer, take the time to “respond” to the five statements below. How true is each of them for you?
I call them the Culture Markers:
- I report to someone who helps make me better.
- There are people in my place of business that care about me.
- I have a sense of trust in my company and where we’re going.
- I’m free to be me – not just a company interpretation of what I should be.
- Somewhere in my company I have a friend or friends who I can count on – even when things get tough.
If you’re like most, your answers will make your response to the culture question MUCH more meaningful.
My Culture Markers ended up answering a far more important question for me over the years – especially when I realized their real power wasn’t in how I sought answers for myself.
No, the larger question was in how often I helped provide their answer to others.
I have many miles to travel in my journey but I’ve come to believe that the greatest of cultures can ONLY be built on the strength of individuals with character – bonded together in a common cause.
How often – when others consider the Culture Markers in your company, might you come to mind as the reason they want to be there?