Culture: the word comes directly from the Latin cultura, for ‘growing, cultivation’. So why do we insist on talking about designing or building company culture as if it were an architectural achievement?
You can’t build culture, but you can grow it. The social expression of culture holds well to the analogy of growing plants. There are some things you can do to help it along, and you can have a good deal of influence on the direction of a culture, as long as you recognize that the culture itself will grow, change, or die, whether you want it to or not.
And it’s a lot easier to grow a culture from scratch than to change an existing one to fit your vision.
When you’re growing a culture from scratch, you can use a scaffolding, like core values, to act as a trellis for your growing culture. With careful cultivation, your culture can thrive, while resembling something of the vision you set out with.
When you’re changing culture, think of it as taking a fully grown plant and shaping it, slowly, into your vision of the culture. You change an existing culture by removing elements that don’t belong, and training the ones that are close to fit.
It’s less like growing climbing vines on an arbor of your design, and more like training bonsai by wiring and pruning.
You can’t just set out a trellis and expect a tree to climb it. You have to prune, trim, and tie branches with wire to encourage them to grow in the direction of your vision.