Use the Summer to Uncover your Hidden Culture Patterns

July 6, 2023 Jamie Notter


Getting under the surface of your culture is a better use of your summer down time than organizing the supply cabinet. Start with your core values and then pull out the competing commitments you have under the surface. Those hidden competing commitments are probably causing you trouble, so those are the parts of your culture you should change. Want help with that? Check out our culture assessment and culture design consulting process.


A lot of organizations have just a little more room to breathe in the summer. It’s not really “down time,” as there’s always work to do, but if you do find yourself with a little extra bandwidth this summer, you should consider spending it on your culture.

Doing culture right requires getting under the surface to see your hidden patterns, and that’s hard to do the rest of the year when you’re jumping from one fire to the next. When you’re busy like that, you only address culture at a high level, like the core-values level, where you try to convince everyone that your culture is about collaboration and transparency.

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That doesn’t cut it. Yes, you value transparency and collaboration (like pretty much everyone else), but you haven’t yet uncovered patterns within those areas that could be holding you back. So this summer, with a little extra time, do a little digging.

Start with the phrase “In our culture we value [put your value here], BUT_________________” and then fill in the blank.

There is almost always a competing commitment (or several) to whatever that core value is, so spend some time trying to name them.

In our culture, we value collaboration…

  • But only within departments
  • But not when things get busy
  • But not if it gets in the way of my annual bonus
  • But not with marketing or IT
  • But only with people at the same level in the hierarchy
  • But we reward competition more than participation
  • But we promote siloed decision-making rather than sharing
  • But we put attitude and talking above listening and understanding
  • But we prioritize process over results.
  • But we deem it more important who gets the credit than who does the work
  • But we focus less on efficiency and more on effectiveness
  • But we prioritize rules rather than relationships
  • But we respect those who can assert themselves most
  • But we have patterns of secrecy and exclusion rather than inclusivity.
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I‘m just making those up (well the first 5; AI did the rest), so you’d have to be honest about what the competing commitments are in your organization, but they are probably there.

Once that’s on the table, then start identifying how these competing commitments are messing with success, and then figure out what parts of your organization and your processes need to be changed in order to fix the problem and make you more successful.

That’s culture change. And that’s a better use of your summer down time than organizing the supply cabinet. And if you want to go deeper, of course, you can check out our culture assessment and culture design consulting process.

Jamie Notter

Jamie is a co-founder and culture strategist at PROPEL, where he helps leaders create amazing workplace cultures that drive greater performance and impact. He brings thirty years of experience to his work designing and managing culture, and has specialized along the way in areas like conflict resolution and generations. Jamie is the co-author of four popular business books, including the award-winning Non-Obvious Guide to Employee Engagement, and his fall 2023 release, Culture Change Made Easy. He holds a Master’s in conflict resolution from George Mason and a certificate in Organization Development from Georgetown, where he serves as adjunct faculty.