Your Culture Patterns Can Defeat Your Core Values

November 4, 2022 Jamie Notter

Most organizations have core values, though many don’t handle them very well. They describe the core values only at a high level and choose lofty and generic values that really don’t guide behaviors.

Some, however, do core values really well. I was at a happy hour this week for a client that was rolling out the culture code they created around the concepts of Trust, Accountability, Collaboration, and Transparency. They had staff people share what it looked like when people do each of those well, and what it looks like when they don’t do it well. This helps get it out of the realm of lofty values and more into guidelines for behaviors.

But even if you’re doing your core values well, there is something more important: your culture patterns. Cultures are complex and dynamic, so how your culture approaches things like collaboration and transparency is not binary or either/or. You don’t need to ask yourself “Do we have a culture of collaboration—yes or no?” Instead, you need to discover the patterns of how your culture values the various components inside collaboration and transparency. Every culture has a distinct pattern in its approach to these key elements, and in some cases, those patterns can defeat your core values.

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The dominant pattern around transparency, for example, is called “Lagging Transparency.” Cultures that have this pattern emphasize the importance of credible and meaningful information and their people are generally willing to share information with others when asked. But it’s primarily reactive. Being proactive in information sharing—like creating systems and processes that make information visible and available BEFORE people need to ask for it—is not as valued in the culture. The result is a culture that shares information, but usually too slowly.

So the people in that culture will tell you that they are honoring their core value of transparency—and they are. But because of the culture pattern, performance will likely suffer, as the organization will miss deadlines, be slow in customer service, and miss opportunities for internal collaboration because they didn’t have the proactive transparency systems in place.

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So if you want to live your core values, you must spot the underlying culture patterns and fix the ones that are getting in the way. Our WorkXO culture assessment is designed specifically to unveil those patterns for you, and it now starts at only $3,000. We think 2023 is going to be the closest we’ve come to “normal” in a long time, so right now is the perfect time to see what patterns have evolved in your culture that might be getting in your way.

Jamie Notter

Jamie is an author and growth strategist at PROPEL, where he helps leaders integrate culture, strategy, and execution to achieve breakthrough performance and impact. He brings twenty-five years of experience to his work designing culture-driven businesses, and has specialized along the way in areas like conflict resolution and generations. Jamie is also the co-author of three books—Humanize, When Millennials Take Over, and The Non-Obvious Guide to Employee Engagement—and holds a Master’s in conflict resolution from George Mason and a certificate in Organization Development from Georgetown, where he serves as adjunct faculty.
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