Culture is Local

By Randy Hall

I was speaking to a group of practice owners and managers recently and one of the questions that I received following my presentation was “How do I create the culture that will drive success in my local practice when the culture in the company that owns the practice is different?” I think I gave a long rambling answer of some sort but I could have answered in one short sentence. Culture is local.

I have worked with many organizations where the culture differs dramatically from manager to manager or hospital to hospital. That’s because different leaders build culture differently. Walk into any organization and find the leader who is building the most effective culture within their team, and you will probably find the most successful leader. Culture starts at the top but when you are the leader of your team – that’s you.

Culture Change Starts at the Top

Successful leaders take complete ownership of the culture that exists on their team and they understand that their actions create the culture that will help their people make countless decisions every day. Part of becoming a successful leader is defining and building the culture that helps everyone make the right decisions, the ones that lead to sustainable growth and success.

Most of the leaders I work with have never really given much thought to how they define and build culture. They usually have a well thought out strategic plan, but rarely do I find leaders that have taken the time to create a culture plan. Sometimes that means that they are trying to execute their new strategy in a culture designed to execute the old one. That doesn’t work.

Culture Teaches People How to Behave

Think about all of the questions a new person in your practice might have that your culture is quick to answer. What time should I show up? How often do I use the phone versus email? How should I support my fellow team members? What’s more important, focusing on customers or pleasing my boss? What should I wear to work? How many mistakes can I make? How much time do I have to learn new things?

The way we learn these and many other things on a team, even a small one, is by watching everyone else around us, that’s culture. Each of these decisions though, will have an effect on how successful the practice or team is and every one of them affects performance. All of them together can make or break your business.

I’ve often heard culture described as “how things are done around here”. As leaders we have the responsibility to establish a culture that ensures they are done the right way, for the right reasons. Not just because we tell people to do them that way, even in the worst cultures you can rarely find anyone overtly asking people to do the wrong things, but because it’s how we do them. And because it’s how we expect others to do them as well.

Day in and day out, our actions as the leader of a team, a hospital, and business will send all the cues that others need to decide how they should operate. Those cues collectively establish the culture. We either build the one that helps them, and us, become incredibly successful, or we allow one to form that we have to compete with every day in our role as a leader. The choice is ours, and ultimately, so is the culture.