Originally published March 29, 2016

Culture is the way things are done in an organization, and what things are considered to be important and taboo. Most organizations have codes of conduct, core values, and ethical standards which are widely communicated.

Culture encompasses both good and bad elements. If the culture of the organization includes primarily good elements, it can be described as a favorable culture. If it includes mostly bad attributes, it can be described as a detrimental culture. If the culture is a mixture of good and bad elements, it can be described as a neutral culture.

To help create a favorable culture, create a vision of how things should work in the organization. Specify those attributes from the list below that are important, and those that should be avoided. Have the senior executive and the leadership team communicate the vision widely and regularly. For example, get your senior executive to endorse, communicate, and exemplify the following credo:

  • I will practice and reward caring, sharing, and daring — caring for others, sharing what I know, and daring to try new ideas.
  • I will insist on trust, truth, and transparency in all dealings — earning and respecting the trust of others, communicating truthfully and openly, and demonstrating and expecting accountability.
  • I will look for opportunities to help, thank, and praise others.
  • I will eliminate criticism, blame, and ridicule in all interactions with others.

Understanding how people interact with each other in the organization, typical styles of behavior, fundamental operating principles, and the code of conduct will reveal the organizational culture. Employee surveys can determine prevailing attitudes. Social networks can spread key messages and reinforce core values. Communities can be asked for advice on improving the culture, used for change management, and created to introduce new processes such as appreciative inquiry. Training is necessary to communicate values and standards. Documentation should spell out expectations for employees. Regular communications from leaders about vision, mission, and strategy should refer to relevant training and documentation. Goals and measurements should reflect the desired culture. Incentives and rewards should support the official values.

Pay close attention to new hire training and induction. The subjects that are covered, and the ones that aren’t, will play a key role in how new hires view the organizational culture. For example, if they receive lots of training on risk avoidance, but none on knowledge sharing, they may be reluctant to post in the enterprise social network, even if that is part of the overall strategy.

We frequently hear about the need to change the culture of an organization. How feasible that is depends on the size of the organization, how long it has been in existence, and how close or far the current culture is from the desired one.

Culture change is easier to achieve in smaller, newer organizations than in larger, more established ones. In a long-entrenched culture, it’s more likely that the culture will outlast any new leader, than that the new leader will be able to change the culture. Unless the leader is prepared to change most of the top leaders, and get them in turn to change the leaders who report to them, and so on, the culture will likely remain the same.

An example of this comes from a story I heard a long time ago. Let’s say that you are the newly-appointed Postmaster General of the United States, and you decide that you want to instill a more professional image in the workforce. So you issue a formal order stating that starting tomorrow, all employees must wear a tie when working at the counter in a local post office. What do you think the likelihood is that all employees will comply with this directive? Some people undoubtedly would don a tie the next day, but many others would think, “What are the changes that the Postmaster General will visit my post office to check up on me? Slim to none.” And thus, the order will be ignored by many, if not most, employees.

For smaller teams, it is easier to make a significant change. For example, when a sports team changes it owner, general manager, or coach, there are many examples of going from losing to winning. This usually doesn’t happen right away, but within a few seasons, major reversals have been made. In 2003, the Detroit Tigers had 119 losses, which came within one loss of tying the 1962 New York Mets for the most losses in a baseball season. In 2006, in Jim Leyland’s first year as manager, they won 95 games and made it to the World Series. There were other contributing factors, but Leyland instilled a different mindset in the team, and the losing culture was changed to a winning one.

The Tigers were owned by Mike Ilitch, who also owned the Detroit Red Wings hockey team. The Red Wings were a consistent winner, under multiple coaches, so the owner helped sustain a winning culture at both the Tigers and the Red Wings. Now that Mike Ilitch has passed on, neither the Tigers nor the Red Wings are winning.

Another Detroit sports team offers a sharp contrast. The Detroit Lions last won the National Football League championship in 1957. The Ford family purchased the team in 1963, and during their time as owners, the team has won only one playoff game, and endured a record-setting winless season in 2008. During the 50+ years that the Fords have owned the team, they have gone through many general managers, coaches, and players, but have not been successful. The one constant has been the ownership, the most likely reason the culture has not changed.

The fourth major Detroit sports team, the Detroit Pistons have had a pattern of alternating between winning and losing. Under owner Bill Davidson, general manager Jack McCloskey, and coach Chuck Daly, the Pistons won consecutive NBA championships in 1989 and 1990. Then they went into a swoon of many losing seasons, changing coaches numerous times, until winning again under general manager Joe Dumars and coach Larry Brown. After making it to the conference finals six straight times, another swoon ensued, followed by frequent coaching changes and the eventual departure of Dumars. Current owner Tom Gores is trying to restore the winning ways, but there are no likely NBA championships for the Pistons on the immediate horizon. In this case, the culture has swung between favorable and detrimental several times.


Western & Southern Financial Group prominently posts its culture principles throughout its facilities in Cincinnati:

Assessing Organizational Culture

To see what kind of culture your organization has, go through the list below, putting check marks next to the attributes that prevail. Then add up the ones that fall under the favorable categories (those with the letter “F” after the number) and those the fall under the detrimental categories (those with the letter “D” after the number). If most of the attributes are favorable, that’s a good sign. If most of the attributes are detrimental, that’s a bad sign. If the mix is roughly even, you can either view this as the glass being half-full (optimistic) or half-empty (pessimistic).

What can you do about a detrimental culture? If you are the leader, you will need to change some or all of the leaders under you, start communicating and demonstrating new ways of doing things, and continue communicating and leading by example until you start to see the rest of the organization follow suit. If you are a member of an organization with a detrimental culture and feel powerless to help change it for the better, you may wish to move to another organization that better matches the culture you prefer.

Culture Categories and Attributes

  • F = Favorable
  • D = Detrimental

1F. Accountable

  • Accept and take responsibility
  • Admit mistakes
  • Handle confidential information with discretion
  • Protect intellectual property
  • Care for assets
  • Take ownership

1D. Unaccountable

  • Pass the buck
  • Blame someone else
  • Cover your rear
  • Make excuses
  • Say “it’s not my problem”

2F. Active

  • Take action as needed, after careful consideration, and in a timely manner
  • Volunteer
  • Plan, but not forever
  • Bias for action
  • Responsive
  • Persistent
  • Persuasive
  • Appropriately assertive
  • Energetic

2D. Indolent

  • Plan endlessly
  • Lots of talk, but little or no action
  • Collect metrics for the sake of metrics
  • Obsess over numbers, but take no action based on them
  • Ignore direct requests
  • React only
  • Obsess over preventing risk
  • Avoid work
  • Reluctant to act
  • Lethargic
  • Passive aggressive

3F. Aesthetic

  • Beauty
  • Harmony
  • Good design
  • Artistic
  • Elegant

3D. Unaesthetic

  • Bad design
  • Unsightly
  • Unappealing
  • Dissonant

4F. Brave

  • Take a chance
  • Go for it
  • Take risks
  • Strong
  • Bold
  • Daring
  • Courageous

4D. Fearful

  • Play it safe
  • Avoid risks
  • Timid
  • Afraid
  • Pushover
  • Spineless
  • Weak

5F. Calm

  • Remain calm even in stressful times
  • Calm down others
  • Patient
  • Poised

5D. Agitated

  • Stress out
  • Blow up
  • Anxious
  • Easily excitable
  • Angry

6F. Civically responsible

  • Engage constructively with local communities
  • Treat the environment well
  • Act responsibly in local communities and the environment

6D. Civically neglectful

  • Avoid interacting with local communities
  • Treat the environment poorly
  • Abdicate responsibility in local communities and the environment

7F. Collaborative

  • Work well with others
  • Routinely collaborate across organizational boundaries
  • Actively participate in communities and networks
  • Pursue strong, weak, and loose ties
  • Well-connected
  • Networked internally and externally
  • Boundary-spanning
  • Cooperative
  • Appropriately competitive

7D. Isolated

  • Individuals go it alone
  • Operate mostly within silos
  • Rely on an “old-boy network” — whom you know is important
  • Private groups
  • Cliques
  • Stovepipes
  • Internal only
  • Uncooperative
  • Aggressively competitive

8F. Communicative

  • Use the right channel for each mode
  • Use words and expressions that are widely understood
  • Use good spelling and grammar
  • Enlighten by communicating appropriately, thoroughly, and promptly
  • Tell stories
  • Speak spontaneously
  • Use direct language
  • Communicate openly
  • Communicate frequently
  • Use authentic voice
  • Listen actively
  • Converse effectively
  • Present effectively
  • Eloquent

8D. Inarticulate

  • Use email for everything
  • Use corporate speak, buzzwords, insider jargon, and corporate lingo
  • Use poor spelling and grammar
  • Recite dry facts
  • Repeat the usual message
  • Use clichés
  • Spin
  • Bloviate
  • Pontificate
  • Fail to listen
  • Converse poorly
  • Present poorly
  • Withhold information
  • Guarded
  • Inauthentic
  • Boring

9F. Decisive

  • Willing to decide
  • Before deciding, ask those who know the most
  • Make timely decisions based on available information

9D. Indecisive

  • Reluctant to decide
  • Don’t listen to those who know
  • Waffle

10F. Diverse

  • Embrace and celebrate differences
  • Wide cognitive, demographic, and experiential variation
  • Tolerant
  • Inclusive

10D. Homogeneous

  • Little or no cognitive, demographic, and experiential variation
  • Intolerant
  • Exclusive
  • Uniform

11F. Empowered

  • Flat organization
  • Holacracy
  • Autonomous
  • Free to act
  • Egalitarian

11D. Controlled

  • Follow orders
  • Command and control
  • Formal structure
  • Red tape
  • Autocratic
  • Hierarchical
  • Bureaucratic
  • Level-conscious
  • Dictatorial

12F. Ethical

  • Stand up for what is right
  • Strive to uphold a core set of principles and values
  • Do what is right — logically, financially, morally, ethically, and environmentally
  • Act with integrity
  • Avoid conflicts of interest
  • Honest
  • Truthful

12D. Unprincipled

  • Bow to pressure
  • Cover up
  • Cheat
  • Corrupt
  • Unethical
  • Immoral
  • Dishonest
  • Deceitful

13F. Excellent

  • Deliver the maximum possible amount of high-quality work
  • Do things the right way — honestly, accurately, correctly, and completely — with good effort, resulting in high quality
  • Achieve expected and exceptional results
  • Set and achieve high expectations
  • Meet all commitments
  • Delight customers
  • Consistent
  • Efficient
  • Effective
  • Productive
  • Thorough

13D. Mediocre

  • Just punch the clock
  • Do the minimum
  • Have no time for anything
  • Do only what is requested
  • Fail to achieve expected results
  • Miss commitments
  • Inconsistent
  • Inefficient
  • Ineffective
  • Unproductive
  • Careless

14F. Independent

  • Think for yourself
  • Think critically
  • Skeptical about conventional wisdom

14D. Conformist

  • Always go by the book
  • Follow the crowd
  • Blindly follow fads, trends, frameworks, models, benchmarking, certification, personality tests, etc.

15F. Innovative

15D. Conventional

  • Resist change
  • Stick to the tried and true
  • Wait and avoid
  • Stagnate
  • Uncreative
  • Uninspired

16F. Leading

  • People rise in the ranks based on merit: meritocracy
  • Leaders demonstrate and require excellence
  • Serve by supporting team members with whatever they need
  • Know what’s going on
  • Practice Management By Walking Around
  • Approachable, visible, and accessible
  • Vision
  • Long-term oriented
  • Inspirational
  • Lead by example, practice what you preach, and model desired behaviors

16D. Supervisory

  • Leaders with little (if any) talent and skill are dominant and highly influential: mediocracy
  • Do as I say, not as I do
  • Don’t lead by example
  • Avoid getting hands dirty
  • Out of touch with what is going on
  • Protected and isolated
  • Myopic
  • Short-term oriented

17F. Learning

  • Want to learn
  • Make time to read regularly
  • Take time to reflect
  • Coach and mentor
  • Intellectually curious

17D. Ignorant

  • Don’t spend time learning
  • No time to reflect
  • Rely on others to know things
  • Act like a know-it-all

18F. Loving

  • Caring
  • Compassionate
  • Appreciative
  • Nurturing
  • Empathetic
  • Sensitive
  • Pleasant

18D. Mean

  • Uncaring
  • Callous
  • Demeaning
  • Unsympathetic
  • Insensitive
  • Unpleasant

19F. Mensch-centric

  • Trust people and colleagues, unless they give reasons not to
  • Always have colleagues’ backs
  • Regularly thank, praise, recognize, and reward colleagues
  • Don’t care who gets the credit
  • Respect others
  • Encourage others
  • Treat others fairly
  • Decent
  • Supportive
  • Humble
  • Loyal

19D. Jerk-centric

  • Seek scapegoats
  • Exploit others
  • Show favoritism
  • Blame
  • Ridicule
  • Criticize
  • Embarrass
  • Undermine
  • Intimidate
  • Threaten
  • Abuse power
  • Bully
  • Badmouth
  • Belittle
  • Backstab
  • Biased
  • Manipulative
  • Overly aggressive
  • Suspicious
  • Unfair

20F. Optimistic

  • Look for the good in everything
  • Believe in team goals
  • Have faith in others
  • Positive
  • Upbeat

20D. Pessimistic

  • Complain
  • Whine
  • Point out what’s wrong or why ideas won’t work
  • Negative
  • Cynical

21F. Passionate

  • Enthusiastic
  • Zealous
  • Ardent

21D. Apathetic

  • Dispassionate
  • Unenthusiastic
  • Dull

22F. Reuse-oriented

  • Search for what can be reused
  • Adopt good ideas
  • Replicate proven practices
  • Apply lessons learned
  • Credit others

22D. Reinventing or plagiarizing

  • Reinvent the wheel
  • Start from scratch
  • Suffer from not-invented-here syndrome
  • Usurp credit
  • Fail to credit others

23F. Sharing

  • Willing to ask for help in public
  • Unafraid to expose ignorance
  • Practice open book management
  • Seek out the ideas of others
  • Open
  • Transparent
  • Generous
  • Helpful
  • Altruistic
  • Selfless

23D. Secretive

  • Operate in a closed manner
  • Communicate privately, excluding others unnecessarily
  • Won’t ask or share openly
  • Afraid to expose ignorance
  • Hide behind closed doors
  • Hoard knowledge
  • Obscure
  • Obstruct
  • Obfuscate
  • Selfish
  • Reticent
  • Sheltered

24F. Timely

  • Do things right away
  • Meet all deadlines
  • Show up on time
  • Make no excuses
  • Move as quickly as is prudent
  • Face up to reality
  • Spend time wisely
  • Prompt

24D. Procrastinating

  • Slow to decide and act
  • Stall
  • Delay
  • Miss deadlines
  • Make excuses
  • Avoid what is unpleasant
  • Waste time
  • Late

25F. Wise

  • Demonstrate good judgment
  • Use common sense
  • Apply intellectual rigor
  • Possess needed skills
  • Logical
  • Rational
  • Pragmatic
  • Competent
  • Expert
  • Intelligent

25D. Obtuse

  • Demonstrate poor judgment
  • Operate by the seat of the pants
  • Lack needed skills
  • Illogical
  • Irrational
  • Impractical
  • Incompetent
  • Inept
  • Dense


1. Barry Popik — “ ‘Culture eats strategy for breakfast/lunch’ is a saying that is frequently credited to management author Peter Drucker (1909–2005), but it’s not known when he used the expression. ‘Culture eats strategy for breakfast’ and ‘culture eats strategy for lunch every time’ were both cited in print in 2002. Mark Shields of Ford Motor Company posted the saying ‘Culture eats strategy for breakfast’ on a wall in 2006. ‘Culture eats strategy for breakfast, technology for lunch, and products for dinner, and soon thereafter everything else, too’ is sometimes said to be the full saying.”

2. Bill Aulet — “I used to think corporate culture didn’t matter. Discussion of vision, mission and values was for people who couldn’t build product or sell it! We had work to do and this MBA BS was getting in the way! And then my first company failed.”

3. Nancy Dixon — “The third myth… is that the exchange of knowledge happens only in organizations that have a noncompetitive or a collaborative culture. It follows that the first thing you have to do is to fix the culture and then get people to share. But I have found that it’s the other way around. If people begin sharing ideas about issues they see as really important, the sharing itself creates a learning culture… It is a kind of chicken-or-egg issue: Which comes first, the learning culture or the exchange of knowledge? Given many organizations’ rather abysmal success rate at changing their culture, I would put my money on having the exchange impact the culture rather than waiting for the culture to change.”

4. Jeffrey Sonnenfeld -

  • “Authoritarian Culture — There is centralization of power with the leader and obedience to orders and discipline are stressed. Any disobedience is punished severely to set an example to others. The basic assumption is that the leader always acts in the interests of the organization.
  • Participative Culture — Participative culture tends to emerge where most organizational members see themselves as equals and take part in decision-making.
  • Mechanistic Culture — The mechanistic culture exhibits the values of bureaucracy. Organizational jobs are created around narrow specializations and people think of their careers mainly within these specializations. There is a great deal of departmental loyalty and inter-departmental animosity. This sort of culture resists change and innovation.
  • Organic Culture — In this case, authority hierarchy, departmental boundaries, rules and regulations, etc. are all frowned up. The main emphasis is on task accomplishment, team work and free flow of communication. The culture stresses flexibility, consultation, change and innovation.
  • Sub-cultures and Dominant culture — Each department of an organization may have its own culture representing a sub-culture of the system. An organizational culture emerges when there is integration of all the departments into a unified whole.
  • Academy Culture — Employees are highly skilled and tend to stay in the organization, while working their way up the ranks. The organization provides a stable environment in which employees can develop and exercise their skills. Examples are universities, hospitals, large corporations, etc.
  • Baseball Team Culture — Employees are “free agents” who have highly prized skills. They are in high demand and can rather easily get jobs elsewhere. This type of culture exists in fast-paced, high-risk organizations, such as investment banking, advertising, etc.
  • Club Culture — The most important requirement for employees in this culture is to fit into the group. Usually employees start at the bottom and stay with the organization. The organization promotes from within and highly values seniority. Examples are the military, some law firms, etc.
  • Fortress Culture — Employees don’t know if they’ll be laid off or not. These organizations often undergo massive reorganization. There are many opportunities for those with timely, specialized skills. Examples are savings and loans, large car companies, etc.”

5. Carter McNamara — “There are four primary ways to influence the culture of an organization.

  1. Emphasize what’s important. This includes widely communicating goals of the organization, posting the mission statement on the wall, talking about accomplishments and repeating what you want to see in the workplace.
  2. Reward employees whose behaviors reflect what’s important.
  3. Discourage behaviors that don’t reflect what’s important. There is no need to punish or cause prolonged discomfort. Rather, you want to dissuade the employee from continuing unwanted behaviors by giving them constructive feedback, verbal warnings, written warnings, or firing them.
  4. Model the behaviors that you want to see in the workplace. This is perhaps the most powerful way to influence behaviors in the workplace. For example, if you want to see more teamwork among your employees, then involve yourself in teams more often.”

6. Tim Sanders — “The most powerful force in business isn’t greed, fear, or even the raw energy of unbridled competition. The most powerful force in business is love. It’s what will help your company grow and become stronger. It’s what will propel your career forward. It’s what will give you a sense of meaning and satisfaction in your work, which will help you do your best work.”

7. Karen Otazo — “Executives had tried for years to ‘fix’ their organization’s culture, or at least unravel its mysteries, by tweaking the flow of decision rights and hierarchical structures, but they had been looking in the wrong place. The tipping point for change could be triggered only in social networks, and, more importantly, in the trust relationships that underlie those networks, because people connect in meaningful ways only with those whom they consider trustworthy… ‘networks, more than hierarchy and more than markets, make culture what it is and what it can be.’ ”

8. Tim Bryce — “Corporate culture pertains to the identity and personality of the company we work with, either in the private or public sectors. All companies have a culture; a way they behave and operate. They may be organized and disciplined or chaotic and unstructured. Either way, this is the culture the company has elected to adopt. In order for an employee to function and succeed, they must be able to recognize, accept and adapt to the culture… Culture doesn’t appear suddenly, it evolves over time as people grow and learn. The older the heritage, the more ingrained the culture is in its members. There are essentially three parts to any culture: Customs, Religion and Society. Each influences the others… Custom dictates the expected manner of conduct for the culture. It prescribes the etiquette to be observed in dress, speech, courtesy and politics (gamesmanship)… Religion is the philosophy of life and the basis for our values. It influences our judgment in terms of what is ethical and what is not… Society defines our interpersonal relationships. This includes how we elect to govern and live our lives. Society defines the class structure in an organization, from Chairman of the Board to the hourly worker. It defines government, laws and institutions which must be observed by its members. More often than not, the society is dictated by management as opposed to democratically selected by the workers.”

9. Seth Godin — “Starts, demands, thrives and requires. Four words that are not in the vocabulary of most organizations. Starts, as in, “here’s where we are, where few others are.” Most politicians and corporate entities can’t imagine standing with the poor. Apart from them, sure. But with them? Demands mean making hard choices about who your competition will be and what standards you’re willing to set and be held to. Thrives, because your organization is only worth doing if it gets to the point where it will thrive, where you will be making a difference, not merely struggling or posturing. And requires, because none of this comes easy.”

10. Gordon Krater — “We’re the only firm I’ve ever encountered to state that we are relatively jerk-free. Our culture is built upon specific core purpose, values, and principles.”

11. Arnold Kling — “Perhaps the main policy implication of the importance of cultural intelligence is ‘follow the prestige.’ Because prestige is such a key element in people’s choice of cultural learning, much depends on how we assign prestige. In Henrich’s words, ‘the differential success of societies and institutions will hinge, in part, on what domains are valued.’ If we choose well the domains that are valued, then prestige will accrue to people from whom we want others to learn. If we choose poorly, then the social norms that people live by and enforce on others will be harmful ones.”

12. Hazel Hall — “A quantitative analysis of survey data highlighted factors necessary to nurture an environment conducive to knowledge creation, creativity and innovation: the organization should:

  • be open to change;
  • encourage and value free communication and new and/or unusual ideas;
  • tolerate mistakes;
  • nurture intrinsically motivated staff.

It should be supported by leaders who promote these characteristics as shared values, while challenging and empowering their staff to generate new ideas in a drive to further innovation.”

13. Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson -

  • “You don’t create a culture
  • Decisions are temporary
  • Skip the rock stars
  • They’re not thirteen
  • Send people home at 5:00
  • Don’t scar on the first cut
  • Sound like you
  • Four-letter words
  • ASAP is poison”

14. Francois Gossieaux — “So, why do best practices not work? The answer is simple: culture. Most likely, you don’t know anything about the underlying culture of the group where the best practice was developed. And if you are about to deploy a best practice in your organization, chances are that you are also not focused on the underlying culture of your organization, either. This is where the system breaks down. Think of culture as the operating system of your organization — the foundation on which you build your business.”

15. MindTree Consulting has done a good job of defining and communicating its core values — “At the core of MindTree’s HR practice are its mission, vision, values and DNA. The process ensures that the five corporate values and the DNA that its employees have identified for themselves are adopted as a culture in the organization. These values are caring, learning, achieving, sharing and social responsibility, the CLASS values in short. MindTree’s DNA is Imagination, Action and Joy.”

16. Rachel Happe — “Communities are the only effective way to change culture.”

17. Arthur Shelley — “The Organizational Zoo

  1. A is for Ant
  2. B is for Bee
  3. C is for Chameleon
  4. D is for Dog
  5. E is for Eagle
  6. F is for Feline
  7. G is for Gibbon
  8. H is for Hyena
  9. I is for Insect
  10. J is for Jackal
  11. K is for Kid
  12. L is for Lion
  13. M is for Mouse
  14. N is for Nematode
  15. O is for Owl
  16. P is for Piranha
  17. Q is for Quercus robur
  18. R is for Rattlesnake
  19. S is for Sloth
  20. T is for Triceratops
  21. U is for Unicorn
  22. V is for Vulture
  23. W is for Whale
  24. X is for X-Breed
  25. Y is for Yak
  26. Z is for Zoo”

18. What’s your community’s culture? — Community Archetypes

  1. Isolated
  2. Noisy
  3. Defunct
  4. Restricted
  5. Debating
  6. Practical

18. How to Be a Better LeaderTRUST

  1. Treat others fairly and with respect
  2. Respond quickly and decisively
  3. Understand what your colleagues need
  4. Support your team members
  5. Tell the truth

19. How to Be a Better Leader — The Right Stuff

  1. Do what is right — logically, financially, morally, ethically, and environmentally — with decency, integrity, and fairness
  2. Do it the right way — honestly, accurately, correctly, and completely — with good effort, resulting in high quality, and meeting all commitments
  3. Do it right away — don’t procrastinate, make excuses, or avoid what is unpleasant — the sooner you start, the better

20. Lessons in LeadershipMediocracy

  • Rule by those who are of average, or below average, competence
  • A society in which people with little (if any) talent and skill are dominant and highly influential
  • A system which is the antithesis of a meritocracy

Why is this the prevalent condition? The reasons include:

  • Fear: managers are afraid to make waves, stand out, rock the boat, disagree with others, stand up to their chain of command, risk failure, think independently, or uphold a set of principles
  • Selfishness: managers mostly look out for themselves, including achieving power, controlling others, keeping their job, getting promoted, earning raises and bonuses, and enjoying perks
  • Poor role models: due to the scarcity of good leaders, budding managers emulate their pointy-haired bosses
  • Replication: when poor managers hire and promote new managers, they perpetuate mediocrity by hiring and promoting more poor managers
  • Threat avoidance: bad bosses don’t want to be shown up by their subordinates or look bad in comparison to them, so they make sure that people even weaker than they are are hired and kept around, and that excellent people are not hired or promoted, or transferred or laid off


  1. Articles about Culture
  2. Books about Culture
  3. Knowledge-Sharing Culture and Values
  4. Organization Culture Cards from Straits Knowledge

What are your thoughts on organizational culture?

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