What Happens to Culture When You are One Degree Off Course?

Laura Novakowski  -  Jan 17, 2014  -   -  Comments Off on What Happens to Culture When You are One Degree Off Course?

As David mentioned in an earlier blog this week, One Degree Off, “small deviations cause big problems.” It may not seem like a big deal to all those little degrees of variance in values and performance, but, consider  but over the course of time, how the gap may widen until one day you have totally lost sight of your values, your mission and your vision.


culture_degree_Jan_15_2014We are what we repeatedly do.

Excellence, therefore, is not an act, but a habit.


It may seem like no big deal to allow those little slips from standards. After all, who will notice. Well let’s  consider the following:

Your company has core values. They are published, hung on the walls  and even laminated to the back of each employee’s identification badge.   Seems like the company has set the course with their values and yet not everyone has the same definition.  The executives attended retreats to bang out these values and so, of course, their job is done. Is it really?  What if one of your corporate values is integrity?  What if people do not know that speaking up and addressing an issue is just as important as remaining silent for confidentiality reasons?  Or, they fail to follow up on a customer complaint for fear of retaliation. There are so many ways that failing to understand the definition of integrity can cause your business to fail. With each passing event, even the smallest  misunderstanding where integrity is not clear, there is a small drift off course. One employee at a time, one degree at a time.

Your organizational structure.  One of my favorite course derailer is the organizational chart. Instead of building bridges, org charts build silos.  The further away from the top the greater the degree of difference. Autonomy is a wonderful thing. But organizations still need high degrees of collaboration. Each department needs to operate autonomously for tasks, but collaboratively for strategy.  When an org chart is designed and defined, there needs to inter-connectivity and cohesive standards build in. This is all to often left to chance not to plan.  The company that allows each division or department to operate independently will ultimately suffer from competitive, and often times, outright divisive behavior. Now, the degree off course is one department, division, or project at a time, not just one individual.

Our boards have ethical and legal obligations. Bylaws are created and approved and yet internal maneuvering, nepotism and looking the other way is all to often allowed.  It takes the strong and courageous board chair and members to ask tough questions and hold people accountable. It is just as tough and courageous for executives to provide honest facts and figures, even the red numbers or the failures to hit targets.  Again, allowing  unclear or incomplete information to be shared  may not seem important, but with each allowance there is greater potential for missing targets, reduction-in-force (RIF), furlough days and the list goes on.   Even in these tough economic times, although people may not leave when company’s seem unstable, they certainly start looking around. And if they are not looking, they may decide, “Oh well, what it doesn’t really matter what I do”  In looking back at some of the organizations and boards that I have served on, I am glad that for the most part, they chose to not even allow one degree of deviation off course.

landonthemoon_Jan15_2014From the individual, to the department, to the board room, it doesn’t take much to take a culture off course. Therefore, it is the business habits that we adopt and adapt that make the difference.   It’s like traveling to the moon,   –  one degree can ultimately take you thousands of miles off course. If you want to land success, you have to make sure to account for every degree that you go off course.

We are interested in learning how you ensure that your culture stays on track.

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