I’m a water rat. I love going to the beach. Even with all the chatter about the threat of sharks and the like, I have this penchant for swimming out a fair distance from the shore and then enjoying the swim back. One of the things associated with romping around in the water at the beach is how easy it is to drift away from where you’ve “pitched camp” on the sand. We get focused on what we’re doing in the water and bit by bit we drift away from where we were. It’s not intentional, but the environment in which we’re operating has subtly shifted us to a different location.

We experience this at more places than the beach. One of the most common places is in the workplace. Unfortunately, the area most negatively affected by this is organizational culture. The effort of establishing a quality culture can be easily undermined by what I like to call culture creep.

Culture creep is a slow disintegration of many of the aspects we have purposefully put in place to maintain and perpetuate the culture we worked so diligently to create. When you’re in the ocean, you make it a point to occasionally look up from what you’re doing in the water so you don’t drift too far from where you established your place on the beach. Organizations must do this very thing in order to avoid allowing the day-to-day tasks to cause you to drift from what you established your culture to be…culture creep.

Here are 4 important things to be aware of so you can avoid culture creep in your organization.

  1. Maintain accountability – It rarely happens that an organization has this abrupt paradigm shift in their culture. Accountability being consistently applied across the organization is absolutely imperative. Not just accountable for doing their job, but also for maintaining alignment with the organizational values. Your values are the foundation of your culture, so don’t allow your foundation to slowly crumble.
  2. Crush double standards – The obvious of not playing favorites is the easy target. What is more challenging is making sure there isn’t a double standard for the employees and leadership. Few people, if any, will actually call out a leader that is operating under a double standard, but the impact on culture and morale will be unmistakable. Once this begins, it’s extremely difficult to change without replacing the “rogue” leader.
  3. Keep things public – Make it a point to take opportunities to highlight the actions of those who are exemplifying your desired culture. If there is a difficult decision that needs to be made and the solution is difficult or somewhat unpopular, yet it supports your culture, use this as an internal PR opportunity to boost your culture. Culture is ubiquitous and should be treated as such from all aspects.
  4. Celebrate small victories – There doesn’t have to be some gala event for every act that supports your culture; there does have to be recognition. Re-visit your rewards and recognition program and see how many of them include cultural nuances. It can be a public, heart felt “Thank you” on the team level or something a little more grandiose for your annual event. Whatever level you decide, make sure it’s part of how you honor the efforts of people who support and perpetuate the culture of your organization.
I would love to hear what you think could be added to this list.
  • This is a great post. We all want to work in and contribute to extraordinary organizations. This post provides a check-list of sorts to consult regularly in an effort to keep our actions in line with what’s best for the culture and integrity of our institutions and organizations. I’m adding this to my “Articles that Lead the Way in 2011” post: http://teachwellnow.blogspot.com/2011/08/top-articles-to-lead-way-for-2011.html

  • Interesting list. I probably would add 2 more:
    Keep to your purpose – this is the beacon that keeps the culture on the straight and narrow
    Know what you value and value it! Having clear values makes it much easier to decide what’s important to you.

  • Thanks for the comment and for seeing the value enough to share with your network, Maureen!

  • Purpose and values…absolutely Ro! Thanks heaps for your contribution.

  • Wondering what you think about idea management systems in organizations? I am in favor of this and think it could impact educational systems in a positive way.

  • As with most systems, Maureen, they are only as effective as they’re designed to be. If they become a burdensome, bureaucratic process that acts as a means for micro-management and leverage for a control happy leadership team then it’s not a great idea. If it’s meant to support a culture of creativity and innovation and truly gives folks a voice as well as a way to organize ideas so they are more easily manageable…then it has value.

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  • Jon

    Great post thank you. I was reading and enjoying it whilst thinking it’s not just about culture creep, but having a great team – but then that’s the point. How many people start off with a great team and then….

    For me No 4 is the most important point, definitely not done enough

  • Thanks for your thoughts Jon. I agree that recognition for culture alignment is one of the most often overlooked aspects of keeping a great team….well, great. I appreciate your contribution!