It’s one thing to say you care about your organization’s culture — it’s another to actually put in the time and effort to shape it.

Recently, Ginger Hardage, former Sr. VP of Culture & Communications at Southwest and Founder of Unstoppable Cultures, and Ricardo Gonzalez, Founder & CEO of Bilingual America and author of The 6 Stages of Cultural Mastery, joined me on a LinkedIn Live session.

We discussed company culture A to Z.

Today, we’re going to unpack…

  • Why leaders need a cultural mindset and not just tolerance.
  • How to live out organizational values and hire based on them.
  • The 5 elements of culture.
  • Why leaders need to know their people deeply.

Having a Cultural Mindset & Skillset

Ricardo: It’s all about cultural mindset and skillset.

The research we did, what we learned was that even people who are working with people — and what I mean by that are people who are working in diversity inclusion, people are working with culture. When we would assess those people, we would find that we still had some severe lack in our cultural mindset and our skillset.

So Cultural Mastery is a process. It’s a way to move from where I am. It’s kind of a roadmap to how I get to a place where I have a healthy cultural mindset and healthy cultural skills.

It really takes us through that process with the ultimate goal being endearment, which is stage six, where we actually learn to love each other.

I have a real aversion to the whole concept of cultural tolerance. Because it’s like, what are we going to do, we’re just going to keep gritting our teeth at each other, the rest of our lives. No, let’s get to cultural endearment. We can learn to love each other.

We’re not divided because we disagree. We’re divided because we’re disagreeable. We don’t have to agree on everything.

“We’re not divided because we disagree. We’re divided because we’re disagreeable.”

Arthur Brooks, who’s done work with the Dalai Lama, says we’ve become a culture of contempt. We actually have contempt for one another. So what we’re doing with Cultural Mastery is trying to get individual leaders with the skillset and the mindset that they need culturally, to succeed with others, but also to get this right for themselves.

Because what we’re hearing over and over from people who go through this is that it liberated them, that it’s changed them, that it’s transformed them.

It’s truly an inside-out job. Organizational culture, at least the way most of it’s set up, tends to be from the outside in.

Living Out Organizational Values

Ginger: One of the things that I think is so important for organizations is to know what your values are.

I think a lot of times our cultures flow out of our values. And, a lot of times, organizations don’t put enough time into that. They put enough time into deciding what they might be, but maybe not enough time into living them.

Now more than ever, the character of our organizations is becoming very apparent. As you know, character is revealed in difficult times. So how are we continuing to stay true to our values?

Nothing can turn organizational culture toxic faster than upper management not living the values.

“Nothing can turn organizational culture toxic faster than upper management not living the values.”

How do we live our values through authenticity, empathy, and the actions that we take?

Culture Starts Before Hiring

Ginger: What’s important for organizations to look at is if you can put your cultures in place. Continue to hire people who align with those values and align with the work ethic.

I always say culture starts before hiring. It starts with how we talk about our organizations out in the world, how prospective employees know what it would be like to work in our organization so that we attract people who would fit well in our environments.

Our culture starts before we even bring anybody into the organization. We need to have the systems in place to continually reinforce that.

And you continue to reinforce your culture. Your values just aren’t on the wall, you need to continue to live them every day. Carry that through training, carry that through performance management.

The 5 Elements of Culture

Ricardo’s 5 elements of culture include…

  1. Beliefs
  2. Values
  3. Norms
  4. Symbols
  5. Language

Ricardo: The first element of our culture is beliefs and the second one is values. Values actually come out of the norms. Beliefs are what we think and values are what we think are important.

Picture it like the five spokes of a wheel going around culture in the center.

Then, norms are the things we expect. So you have beliefs, values, norms, and then you have symbols and those are the visual elements. A lot of communication is nonverbal, a lot of it is visual in nature.

And then after symbols, you have language.

Rather than creating a mission statement or just a value statement, actually create a culture statement. That cultural statement says what we believe and what we value. The things we can expect and the symbols we hold dear to ourselves.

I wish that companies and organizations would start thinking in terms of creating cultural statements and really clearly defining their beliefs, values, norms, symbols, and language. I think it would go a long way in helping people align much more quickly and much more easily.

Know Your People Deeply

Ricardo: You can’t lead people to the highest levels until you know them at the deepest levels. Most leaders really don’t know their people. It takes time.

“You can’t lead people to the highest levels until you know them at the deepest levels.”

We’re no longer focusing on the ROI, which is Return On Investment — we’re focusing on the ROR: the Return On Relationships.

Cultural Mindset Takeaways

Developing a cultural mindset is essential to becoming a successful organizational leader. To do that, keep these three takeaways in mind:

  1. Organizational culture is an inside-out job, starting with the leader.
  2. Leaders need to be living out their company’s values and hiring based on the culture.
  3. Know your people deeply.

Until next time!