The question of who “owns” a company culture is a tricky one. There are lots of right answers that are wrong, and lots of wrong answers that are right. Let me try to make some sense of all of this for you.

Who’s in charge?

First off, who’s in charge? If you started the company, or lead the board of directors of the organization, then it should be you. You are the final decision-making authority and are, therefore, the final authority on the culture of the organization. 

But does this mean you own your company culture? Not quite.

If you’re in charge, how could you not be in charge?

In Boundaries for Leaders, Henry Cloud says, “leaders get what they create, or what they allow.” That sums it all up. You get “out of control” only when you create it or allow it. If you allow others to control your company culture, they will. If you allow behaviors that are inconsistent with your culture, you are giving up control of your culture. If you behave in a way that is inconsistent with your culture, you are creating a new culture. Your team is far more likely to reproduce what you do than they are what you say, especially if there’s a difference between the two.

Can one person own the company culture?

Nope. I believe one person is ultimately responsible for your culture. Without you, no positive cultural shift can take root, but that doesn’t mean you can do it alone. No culture can successfully guide an entire company unless the whole company upholds that culture. When it comes to culture, there can be no exceptions. There can be mistakes and corrections, but if you have someone on your staff permanently living outside your stated culture, then your stated culture isn’t your real culture. 

You’d be surprised at how common this is. It may even be the norm. Those values you worked so hard on, those nifty words you painted on your walls and printed on t-shirts five years ago, probably don’t mean much today.

A culture riddled with obsolete values is one of the great casualties of modern business, and it is costing us dearly. When your actions don’t align with your stated values, you create a cultural wild west. Anything goes, and the biggest guns win. Want to scare away top talent? That’s precisely how you do it. Want to burn out and frustrate your most committed team players? Now you know how. Want to hate coming to work, and wish you hadn’t started the company because then it would be easier to quit? Look no further; you have found the way.

Culture done right

Here’s what culture looks like when it’s done right. You take responsibility, set the appropriate boundaries, and then invite everyone in to build a high-quality company culture. You love coming to work. You like the people you work with, and they like you. Infighting is low or non-existent. Departmental silos don’t exist. With open communication, you can stop problems before they happen. With exciting collaboration, you can create new ideas. With organization-wide alignment, you can build up so much momentum with everyone pulling together in the same direction.

And even for the most mercenary among you, you get things done – a lot of things. Without having to deal with employee apathy and turnover, you can get your people operating at their peak for the long haul.

So take a moment and check the pulse on your company culture. Walk the halls of your office. Listen to the water cooler talk. Look at the emails your teams send to each other and clients. Look with the eyes of an outsider, keep what you like, and get rid of the rest!

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