The Two Types of Work Environments, aka “Cultures”


shutterstock_265217333Peter Drucker, the guru of organizational development consulting, was quoted as saying that “culture eats strategy for lunch.”

Company “culture” is defined as “how people within an organizational environment communicate and behave based on real or perceived values, beliefs, and rules (both written and unwritten).”

There are two types of company cultures:

  • A “compliance” culture, or
  • A “commitment” culture.

Compliance Culture:

A very autocratic leader is often at the helm of a “compliance culture.”

This leader is highly demanding, often requiring unrealistic performance expectations.

The “compliance culture” leader communicates in a way that does not permit discussion on ideas different from his or hers.

In a “compliance culture” team members are required to “comply” with the desires, demands and whims of the leader.

Team members learn early it’s best not to make decisions because mistakes are not tolerated.

Team members exist in survival mode, focusing on just fulfilling minimal work requirements and rarely help teammates, while the “command and control” leader preaches teamwork ad-nauseam.

A “compliance culture” creates a very stressful, “CYA” environment with a lot of passive-aggressive behavior.

In this environment company leaders to have to work harder to move the company strategy forward, often failing miserably as the culture of compliance eats away at potential progress.

Commitment Culture:

Conversely, working in a “commitment culture” is like working on a “championship” athletic team.

Everyone on the team knows their individual role in helping the company achieve its strategic goals.

The leaders’ open and collaborative communication style fosters an environment of enthusiastic contribution to help the company get where it is going. Team members’ efforts often go above and beyond expectations.

Ideas are encouraged and nurtured for further development.

Leaders see failures and mistakes as learning experiences, not something to punish.

Sometimes understanding the difference between “compliance” and “commitment” cultures can be challenging.

Last week I learned this the hard way.

I was working with an organization in a highly regulated industry, the healthcare field.

When I broached this topic company leaders struggled to understand why a compliance culture may not be most desirable.

They argued that because their industry required compliance with a multitude of health regulations, they needed a compliance culture to make the system work.

Initially, I struggled to explain the difference.

Then, it hit me!

A compliance culture doesn’t refer to the type of work that is done, it refers to the way people are led and how they are communicated with.

It is very possible to have a commitment culture in a compliance heavy industry.

There are always things that people in a work environment must “comply” with to fulfill job requirements, things like punctuality for meeting workday requirements, or fulfilling deadlines.

It works in athletics and it can work in business, too.

Winning a championship in sports requires athletes on a team to “comply” with the rules and laws of the team framework (coming to practice on-time, etc.) and the rules of the game they play.

They do so happily because the “commitment culture,” has everyone focused on winning so they “comply” with what the team leadership has set as guidelines for success.

Team leadership also provides opportunity for the athletes to use their unique creative talents to get the job done in the field of play.

It should be the same in business.

Is it, in yours?

Personal Branding Blog – Stand Out In Your Career


Size Doesn’t Matter in Small Business Cultures


shutterstock_197718245The term “silos” in relation to company culture is typically associated with larger organizations.

For that reason I was flabbergasted by a conversation with the CEO of a small, but very well respected not-for-profit in my community.

She told me she wanted to improve teamwork in her organization.

That sounded typical and not unusual to hear from a small business CEO.

Then, I probed a little deeper and she added, “well, we need to break down the silos in our organization, too.”

“So, how many employees do you have?” I asked.


I replied, “Oh, that’s interesting.”

Can you imagine? Cultural “silo” issues with just seven total people in a work environment?

She chose not to hire me to help her with those challenges.

And then, less than two years later we reconnected at a holiday event at which time she gave me an update.

“I’m very upset with Sally (her “former” CFO), she left me in August and only gave me the standard two weeks’ notice.”

I just listened.

As I did, I was thinking, “isn’t it odd that in such a small organization the CEO and CFO would have a relationship where the CEO would not have enough of a trusting relationship with her CFO to know she was looking to move on?”

Obviously, two years later, the silos (even in the C-Suite) were still entrenched.

This is an organizational culture issue.

All organizations have a culture.

As usual, in most things, size doesn’t matter.

A couple of key things to understand about organizational cultures:

  • They develop through one of two ways, default (the most popular) or by design.
  • However they develop the most important influencer is the senior most leader of the organization. He or she, through their behavior and communication style, sets the tone that flows throughout.
  • Peter Drucker, the founder and guru of present day organizational management consulting once said, “culture eats strategy for lunch,” meaning that regardless of how great an organization’s strategy, if the organization’s culture is not in the right place, the strategy will fail miserably.

Organizations large and small invest tens of thousands to millions of dollars to create their corporate strategy, yet invest virtually nothing in creating a culture that will be THE driving force to move the strategy towards success.

This, I believe, is a universal truth in business.

Yet, it is violated in virtually every company, regardless of whether it has six, 600, 6000 or 60,000 people working in it.

Only a precious few get it right.

Does yours?

The simple question to ask when developing your company’s strategy is, “does our present organizational culture function in a way that will support the successful implementation of this strategy?”

If the answer is “Yes,” don’t stop there.

Test your assumptions behind that “yes.”

Chances are those in the boardroom creating the strategy have no clue whether that “yes” answer is true.

Keep that in mind as you begin creating or adjusting your strategy for 2016.

Personal Branding Blog – Stand Out In Your Career