E19- “Culture” Part 2- Digging Holes

The subject this week is culture. Specifically, the importance of defining and repeating culture with your team. We will start with a Star Wars quiz. Then we will discuss the futility of digging holes. Lastly, we will move on to how your cultural message is just not going to cut it.

I do consulting and speaking work outside of my day job and I have relationships with other consultants and coaches that I trust to help even if I can’t. If you have a business problem you are struggling to solve, or you are looking for a speaker for your next event, consider me as your solution. Reach out to me and we can talk about a coaching or problem solving arrangement.

You can contact me at Cardinconsulting@gmail.com.

Show Notes:

If you were to ask your team members to fill in the blanks of the following phrases, how would they answer?

  • Our three key results that were are going to focus on in 2018 are ______.
  • These results support our culture because _______.
  • The most important problem we need to solve in this business right now is ________.
  • We value ______ above all else when it comes to who we are and what we are all about.
  • The most important thing we can do to support the business right now is _________.
  • To illustrate our culture, remember or favorite story about ________

They would fill in the blank. But would they fill in the blank the same way you do? For most teams the answer is “no”. People do not know the basics about what is important to the business, the leader and to the culture.

Digging Holes:

James E. Lukaszewski, management and communication consultant, shares the following illustration:

A farmer, while sitting on his porch, noticed a highway department truck pulling over to the shoulder of the road. A man got out, dug a sizable hole in the ditch, and got back into the vehicle. A few minutes later, the other occupant of the truck got out, filled up the hole, tamped the dirt, and returned to the truck.

Then the men drove forward on the shoulder about 50 yards and repeated the process – digging, waiting, refilling. After a half-dozen repetitions, the farmer sauntered over to them. “What are you doing?” he asked.

“We’re on a highway beautification project,” the driver said. “And the guy who plants the trees is home sick today.”

A strong definition of your business culture matters. If you don’t have a strong cultural message, your people are just digging holes. They don’t see the bigger picture. They don’t understand why they are doing what they are doing. It is just a job.

Example of a strong cultural definintion:

The Banks Five Responsibilities

The First National Bank, Columbus, GA
William Ford Pearce
Estimated 1971
“Our Credo”

We believe that our first responsibility is to our customers
Our service must always be the best
We must constantly strive to improve our services
We must not say “No” until we have exhausted every facet and explored
every avenue of approach to the question

Our second responsibility is to our community we serve
We must be good citizens—support community projects
We must maintain in good order the property we are privileged to use
and respect the rights and property of others
We must participate in promotions of civic improvement, health, education and good government and acquaint the community with our activities.

Our third responsibility is to those who work for us
The men and women in each department of our bank.
They must have a sense of security in their jobs.
Wages must be fair and adequate.
Junior officer supervisors, and department heads must be qualified
And fair minded.

There must be opportunity for advancement—for those qualified
And each person must be considered an individual standing on his own
dignity and merit.

Our fourth responsibility is to our management
Our executives must be persons of talent, education, experience and ability.
They must be persons of common sense and full understanding.

Our fifth and last responsibility is to our stockholders
Their business must make a sound profit
The assets of the bank must be protected by adequate control and supervision.
Bad times must be provided for—reserves must be created.
High taxes must be paid, new equipment purchased and maintained
We must experiment with new ideas
When these things have been done the stockholder should receive a fair
We are determined with the help of God’s grace to fulfill these obligations to the best of our ability.


Why your team does not adopt your cultural message:

  • They don’t understand it because they don’t know what it looks like.
  • They don’t think that it applied to them.
  • They resist it because what you are asking them to do is not the way they have always done it.
  • They don’t want to do it because it will mean more work for them personally.
  • Some people think they can just wait you out. They feel like they have been here longer than you or they know better than you.
  • Some people they think you really don’t mean it or you wont do anything to them if they ignore you. They are sitting in your meeting, shaking their head positiviely. You think they are with you but all the while they are saying to themselves, “I’m not doing that. I am doing it the way I want to do it. If you don’t like it, come and get me sucker.”
  • Assuming they do want to try and execute on what you just said. What you said means something different to every person.

Clear vision is usually assumed and rarely communicated. ~ Unknown

In other words, saying it is not the same as selling it.

Where do leaders fail when trying to sell culture?

  • They create it in a vacuum.
  • It is not clear enough.
  • They don’t let people say it in their own words.

To sell it, start with repeating your message.

You have to communicate the message over and over and over again in different ways to make your leadership instructions become part of the culture in your organization.

  • Repeat your message before you start meetings.
  • Do regular “check ins” to discuss what it means with your leaders.
  • Reach down a few levels into the organization and ask them what the culture means.
  • Repeat it in the written language that you communication to your team.
  • Repeat in when you reward people for achievement. Tie what they did back to the culture.
  • Spend time elaborating on little parts of the message when you have time with your team.
  • You don’t have to be the one repeating it all the time. Create and expectation that your leaders and your people get a spotlight to talk about what it means to others in the organization.

Saying it once does not work if you want to win your teams hearts and minds. You have to repeat it at least 7 times before they even begin to hear it and you have to keep repeating it every 28 days for it to stick.

But you are thinking… ” Oh no. Repetition will get annoying if I just show them the same power point slides and read the list of bullet points over and over again.”

You are right. That is why you have to give it life.

Giving your message life will be covered in a future episode of The Short Attention Span Leadership Podcast.

Image Credit:
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