Culture and Scaling Up: Creating an Intentional Culture

Lessons from 2015 Culture Leaders of the Year

I gained some new insights on Organizational Culture (and reinforced some previous ones) listening to a panel discussion with four finalists in the Pittsburgh Technology Council’s Culture Leaders of the Year from 2015. Much of the discussion centered on the question, “How do you sustain and build an effective culture during rapid growth or change?” The insight from the panelists was that the short answer to that question is, “Intentionally”.   Their observations and real-life examples confirmed my belief that building an effective culture must be a deliberate, planned and thoughtful leadership process that should not be left to chance. In other words, effective cultures must be built, they don’t just evolve.

From my experience, intentional culture development starts by understanding what organizational culture is, assessing your current culture, determining the culture needed or desired to drive your business and then pulling all the right culture levers you can to create the change. The Culture Panelists highlighted a number of levers that were critical to creating and sustaining their high-impact cultures.

  • Culture building is a two-way process – top-down and bottom-up. Leaders start the definition of the desired culture but have to allow room for the whole team to add to the definition.
  • Middle management is key; particularly if that is a new leadership pool being created as a company grows. They have to buy-into the desired culture and be good role models of the behaviors that reinforce the culture.
  • Staying true to your core and remembering why you got into the business in the first place. One panelist referred to this as his “tuning fork”; going back to the mission and vision and pinging decisions against those standards.
  • Culture building requires converting your vision into tangibles for all stakeholders, “What does that look like” or “What is true North”, and then over-communicating on what we are all about.
  • Culture building is work. One panelist commented that he only had total cultural alignment in the business when it was a one man band.
  • Team building is not an event and cannot be forced. It has to be built into what you do every day and allow team members to bring their own interests and ideas to the table.
  • Much of intentional culture building is about critical conversations. Several panelists described using regular one-one-one discussions between leaders and their team members asking questions like, “How are you doing?, “What important thing should we talk about?”, and ‘How can I (or the company) help you?”

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