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    Don't Ignore Your (Cultural) Core
    The Vault

    Don't Ignore Your (Cultural) Core

    May 2016

    I can spot a good volleyball player a mile away. I’ve been playing since I was a kid and still do in adult leagues and tournaments.  It’s my passion, and finding new people to play with is something that’s always on my radar.  I want the leagues I’m a part of to thrive.

    What makes a good player?  The obvious things are speed, strength, flexibility, and overall skills, but that’s not only what I seek.  When I look for a new player, I look for someone who has a visibly strong and stable core.  Throughout the years, I’ve learned that a stable core is critical for overall performance.  Players are simply more powerful when their cores are strong.  When they are weak, skills like speed and strength carry players only so far.  Inevitably, they go down with injury and often don’t return to the court.  

    Like volleyball players, organizations have risks and threats to their health, and weak core stability is at the top of the list.  What do I mean by an organization’s core stability?  It’s the cultural core of the organization, the sentiments, moods, and behaviors of employees that either work to build up or undermine the organization.  As with your body, if your organization’s core stability is weak, disaster is imminent.

    Business leaders know this, I think, but are often in denial about it.  They spin their wheels trying to create a great culture full of company perks and “fun stuff”, but still struggle with low engagement, high turnover, difficulty recruiting, and so on.  Why is this?  To put it bluntly, they’re ignoring the rotten core of the organization.  

    Dr. Marla Gottschalk, organizational psychologist and business coach, recently wrote on this topic:

    In this ever-changing world of work, I'm going to go out on a proverbial limb and vote for stability. Not the kind of stability that shoots you in the foot and has the potential to signal an organization's downfall (resting on laurels, complacency, lack of customer connection). I'm speaking of the kind of internal stability that allows your organization's engines to really rev and take flight. The kind of security borne of trust and understanding.

    The idea may sound a bit esoteric and difficult to grasp. Never the less, discussing its presence is vital. It is essential because great employees do not simply leave bad bosses--they run (where possible) from an unhealthy culture. We have wrung our hands over various constructs that swirl around that core; engagement; turnover; commitment; loyalty. However, if we do not first take aim to affect our cultural core, forward progress is stymied.

    The essence of a strong cultural core is organizational safety.  Employees need these five things:

    1. Employees need to feel understood so that their manager understands why they come to work (besides for the money), what their vision of themselves and their goals and aspirations are, and how working in the organization aligns with what matters personally to them.
    2. Employees need to know their managers are their allies. Managers need to trade more than pay for performance. They need to trade the growth and career development opportunities the employee seeks, in exchange for achieving company goals.
    3. Employees need to know what's really going on--what the organization is really doing, what is the mission and whether it's for real, an obsolescence, or a platitude. Organizations ask employees to put their heart and soul in it, so they have a right know if it's for real.
    4. Employees need to know they're being heard and respected. Communication must be a genuine two-way street.
    5. Employees need to know they'll be provided the authority and resources need to succeed--because without those, they realize the organization is insincere and lacks integrity.

    The problem with many organizations is that there is a disconnect between leadership and the organization's real cultural core. Leaders often measure current performance and assume all is well (or will get better), and are oblivious to the real damage that has occurred and will worsen without a proper diagnosis and corrective actions.  It’s the old “can’t see the forest for the trees” problem.

    Signs of poor cultural core include: premature turnover of key employees, low engagement survey results, a vibe of low morale, complaints of lack of career development opportunity, difficulty recruiting, complaints about managers, and harmful commentary on sites such Glassdoor. If your organization is exhibiting any of these traits, you need to come to terms with your true cultural core, and take corrective action before your company becomes irreparably injured.  We’ll help you do it.  Stay tuned to this blog.


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