How Strong is Your Organizational Culture? (Edited at the request of actual witnesses*)

By Sean Abbas on June 24, 2013

Ladies and Gentlemen… The world’s largest fairway.

Our annual golf trip begins in Las Vegas every April. The trip takes us to St. George, Utah and culminates at one of my favorite golf courses, the Sand Hollow Golf Club.  Three years ago, I was standing by the first tee at Sand Hollow. Before I teed off, my “friend” Mark commented that, “This has to be the world’s largest fairway, *only a really $#@tty golfer could miss that!”

I step to the tee and one-hop my drive into the rough on the right side about 225 yards out. Mark followed my errant shot with this fateful comment, “And you just missed it!”  Yes, folks I had just missed the world’s largest fairway in front of 11 of the most unforgiving guys you can imagine.

The fun doesn’t end there either. You see, I’ve missed this same fairway now for 3 consecutive years. Two years ago it was a dead pull into the rough on the deep left and this year it was a snap hook into the rough on the short left.  My tee shot for 2014 is one of our golf group’s most anticipated events.

I’m a 19 handicap (that’s not so good for you non-golfers) and many of the guys in our golf group have handicaps less than 10.  I need to learn to hit the fairway consistently and under pressure. I need help with my alignment, stance, grip and head position. The low handicappers in our group have these fundamentals mastered and their training plans are very different from mine.

Your organizational culture is the same way.  Before you develop the right plan to strengthen your culture, you need to know where you stand.  Compare the graph of your culture to the Threads Culture Strength Standards.  If you haven’t graphed your organizational culture yet, click here.


Weak Organizational Cultures


Characteristics of Weak Cultures

  • People spread across every box.  You have no continuity. You can sense the indifference of your employees, and you can feel the lack of direction.
  • Confusion on core values.  People are bringing their own core values to your culture.  Different groups in your organization are setting direction based on what they want and not what’s best for the organization.
  • Lack of accountability on producing results.  .  Some people are producing results in ways counter to the core values of your organization.  Others are producing subpar results, although they seem to be “well intentioned.”


If you are leading an organization with a weak culture, don’t be discouraged.  The training to make your organizational culture stronger will be hard, but you get to experience the most drastic changes.  Your upside is huge!  We have seen Weak Cultures with 75% of employees in the red and yellow boxes strengthen all the way to Elite Cultures in as little as 2 years.


Intermediate Organizational Cultures


Characteristics of Intermediate Cultures

  • Majority in the green box. You have a lot of people producing results and consistently working with your organization’s core values in mind. 
  • The people in the yellow and red boxes are known by everyone.  Every employee and manager, including you, can identify the people in the red and yellow boxes.  Your HR department is regularly making rules, policies and procedures to address the problems created by the employees who are damaging your culture.


If you are leading an Intermediate Culture, you still have your work cut out for you. To strengthen your culture you will need to focus on setting clear results expectations for each position, communicating your organization’s core values and consistently holding people accountable to your culture. The good news is that you have a solid base of people who understand your organizational culture and have strong incentives to help you strengthen it.


Advanced Organizational Cultures


Characteristics of Advanced Cultures

  • Strong majority in the green box. You have 90% of your employees working in the green box and making a positive contribution to your culture. If you explained the Threads graph to them, the concept behind it would be easily understood and applied to your organization.
  • Core values are alive and active in your organization. Your core values are being applied to decision making and strategy throughout your organization.  Your people have seen how your core values have contributed to your organization’s success.
  • You have no red box employees and a few yellow box employees.  Your organization does a good job with hiring and is self policing when it comes to any person that would be rated in the red box.  The few people you have in the yellow boxes are well known to you and the rest of your staff.


If you are leading an Advanced Culture you are doing a lot of things right.  You are hiring well, rewarding and promoting the right people and holding people accountable to your culture.


To strengthen an Advanced Culture, leaders must confront their fears and have difficult conversations with the few people who are damaging your culture.  You know who these people are.  They have been around a long time, have specialized job knowledge or are high producers.  The Threads Executive Coaching Series will help you initiate these conversations and give you real examples of the amazing changes that happen when you do.

Elite Organizational Cultures


Characteristics of Elite Cultures

  • Your people are passionate about your culture.  People are excited to be part of your culture.  Your organizational culture is part of your interview, hiring and on-boarding processes.  Culture is central in decisions on rewarding and promoting employees.
  • Peer accountability is high.  Your organization is self policing for anyone in the red or yellow boxes.  The few people you have in the yellow boxes are usually new hires or new promotions who are rapidly moving towards the green box.
  • Your culture is real competitive advantage. The best people want to work with you. Great employees will not leave you.  Customers get real value from your organization.


So you think elite cultures have made it and can just coast, right? The biggest threat to an Elite Culture is success.  Elite Cultures are usually growing quickly.  Rapid hiring is bringing in people from other organizations and the financial success you are achieving can cause people to lose sight of what made you great.  Elite Cultures fade quickly if they are taken for granted.  Leaders need to actively protect their culture above everything else.


The Wrap

Now that you have graphed and measured the strength of your organizational culture, it’s time to develop a specific training plan for your culture.  Your tactics vary based on the strength of your culture, but your training plan should address 3 key areas:

  1. How are you going to reward your people that are contributing to your culture?
  2. What are your specific plans to coach the people that are damaging your culture?
  3. What are your plans to hire people that will contribute to you culture?