The Culture Sandwich

We have an informal professional development thing going at Windsor Circle.  The group chooses a book, company buys copies for everyone that wants to participate, and then we meet for several weeks and discuss the book as we progress through the chapters.

In a recent conversation, we discussed at length how culture is set in an organization.

In most cases, the culture is set by the leaders.  If there’s apathy at the top, it will flow throughout.  If there’s a solid set of principles, well applied, that too will propagate.

But the thing that I found interesting was how the team at large receives and amplifies the culture.

Initially, the leaders set the culture at the top.

But then that culture gets codified into systems and practices.  At Windsor Circle, things like the quarterly team day and our Friday Sales Meetings are examples of things that codify the culture.  At this juncture, we’re still small enough that our team has regular interaction with our leaders.  The culture can be communicated directly.

As we scale, however, that culture will not be directly interpreted from my mouth.  As we scale to 100 people, or 300 people, or 1,000 people, the culture will actually come from the bottom up.  People will interpret the culture from the people around them, and the systems that support them.

In essence, you have people at the top setting culture, and people at the bottom setting culture…  and what lies in between is the true test of what a firm is made of.  A culture sandwich.

It reinforces how critical it is to document and constantly refer to one’s principles and then find ways to cement them in via routines, practices, and events so that large groups of people interpret and reinforce the culture in the same way.  Failing that will surely lead to a disjointed and apathetic organization.