It’s a cultural thing

· April 9, 2012

Lately I’ve been coming back again and again the importance of culture in an organization, group or company. It’s the thing that binds you together and with a strong culture in place you can get a very fast moving, quick acting organization without being afraid of the people in it straying away from the important stuff.

This topic has been nagging me for a very long time, a few years to be exact. I come back to it again and again in my reasoning and argumentations (probably sounding like an old record that got stuck to some people). But that just because I think it’s super important – it’s the soul of your company if you will. The spirit of a otherwise lifeless entity.

This blog post is probably just scratching the surface of book length material. Bare with me – I need to get this out now.

US Marines

A few weeks a ago I read Corps Business that is a book about the management principles of the US Marines. I must say that I had my doubts going in. US Marines? Management by screaming and asking people to “drop down and give me 20”?

Well – I was very surprised. For one thing the Marines doesn’t even use the word management – it’s called leadership. You’re not managing a herd of cows – you’re leading a group of thinking, well trained soldiers.

The marines operate in chaos. In their operating situations nothing is as they expected; the people they was going to meet doesn’t show, the house they we’re going to hold is blown up, they cannot call home anymore. The Marines know that. Going in.

So what would you do in this situation? Plan even more? No… of course you wouldn’t.

I’ll tell you what the Marines does; they trust their people to get the job done in the best way possible no matter what. They have small (4 persons) well trained groups that operate independently against a goal.

So, how on earth can they trust their people so blindly? How are they sure that these small teams all works to a common goal and doesn’t try to show off?

In a word – culture!

When a Marine is first trained they start off with a long (8 weeks? don’t remember right now) recruiting period. It hard, hard stuff designed to break you down both mentally and physically to the bare person that is you. It’s designed to separate the “good” seeds from the “bad” – the Marine material from the others.

The first thing that happens when you are recruited, directly following those hellish weeks is that someone tells you;

“You are accepted! You are now Marines! And Marines never go by bus – we fly!”

Then a helicopter flies you and your new Marines buddies to another training camp. This is another deal all together – everybody here is Marines. As you step off you are greeted by fellow Marines that knows what you have been through, that applauds you, that pad you on the shoulder and help you get settle.

This is just the beginning of a much longer training (more than a year) designed just to build comradeship, community and culture.

With this strong (I say!) culture in place it’s easy to see that the Marine leadership blindly trusts their troops to accomplish the task at hand.

Yeah, yeah – their business is rather nasty and you could wonder if that Marine culture works in any other kind of business but it’s a great example! This was just one example from that great book. Get it, read it!

Living values vs. values on paper

From the Marines we can see a great difference from having some nice keywords (are they not the same, in essence, in all companies?) and actually living them out. They are enforced and repeated again and again. Not just as pretty phrases but in everything they do, act and are. And by doing so you get an organization that are the values they say they want to live up to.

Even I found myself crying “Hoo-rah!” a couple of times just by reading about them.

So a culture cannot be establish by just jotting down a couple of word, train everybody and then say; “Alright – this is now how we are! Live like this!”

No – you have to live by them. You need great examples. And you need to be constantly reminded of the culture and what is means to be part of it!


I’m a Christian. Just writing that out probably scared away a few of you, right? But bare with me, this is just another example – you don’t have to think like me.

In the 1990 a trend arose in Christianity. Or actually a practice to wear small bracelets of fabric saying W.W.J.D. or spelled out What Would Jesus Do? This was a small reminder to the wearer to take Jesus Christ as our example and ask ourselves what He would do in a situation that you were in right now.

I’m telling you that if every Christian had lived by that simple rule a lot of nasty things done in Christianity’s name would never had happen.

Jesus is the ultimate example for a Christian. If I does what he would have done I would be a great bearer of Christian culture – or plainer a great Christian. But, and here it comes, that means that I need to know what he would have done in this situation…

Aha – that’s not easy. To do that I need to familiar myself with the teachings, the stories about Jesus and the thinking behind his parables. I need to be dunked in Christian culture. Just as the Marines are dunked in Marine culture. Otherwise it would not be second nature to me and come without thinking.

As a side note – WWJD works great for me at Avega Group as well… Our CEO Jan Rosenholm is a great role model for me. What Would Janne Do could be every Avega consultants motto. But then we need to be sure of what kind of person Janne is… So everybody need to know him… or at least how he is and acts… Maybe not a stupid idea? I know Janne has always been very openhearted to me and I’ve got a pretty good idea What Janne Would Do. For starters, it could never be Jan – he’s Janne with the whole company.

Who are the great examples and role models in your group, organization or company?

Be part of our culture and build it

A good and strong culture can be felt. You almost can touch it as you enter the room. The feeling of these people sharing history, style and being strong together.

I’ve felt it a couple of times but the strongest feeling was when I had the good fortune of playing in the best brass band in Sweden – the Gothenburg Brass Band. Being a brass band nerd I had of course heard about them but was very curios on what made them tick. How could the keep the high standard up all these years?

The thing was – everybody was there to do their best. Nothing else was good enough. And they combined that with a super strong feeling of brotherhood and fellowship. I never felt that I was doing a bad job but rather was encouraged and lifted when I struggled. After every rehearsal or event there was a get together or party or going out somewhere.

I once asked them how they recruited… The answer was simple;

“People comes to us – they know (or will know) what we ask from them. We want people like us in the band”.

Super strong culture. And ultimately the thing that made me quit the band – I could put in the amount of hours to keep up with them musically and socially (as they were on the other side of the country). I miss that group of people almost every week still to this day.

Hard to build, fragile and easy to tear down

So by now I hope that you also understands that culture is important to build a fellowship and strong values that is lived after. Now for the sad part…

Culture is very easy to tear down. It can take just a couple of words coming from the wrong person and everything that is built up can become wobbly. People start to question if leaders really lives up to the values we proud ourselves with. “If he doesn’t – why should I?”, “Well… if they are going to act like that… I don’t see why I should struggle with …” – you get the picture.

Not only that – it takes a long time to build too. You need to start small and scale out by example. Day by day, person by person, value by value. You cannot declare a new way of being – it must be taught by example.

And you are the teacher!


So to wrap this already way to long blog post…

To keep and grow a culture we all need to be teachers of it to each other. I am the teacher. You are the teacher. What Would You Do – I can learn from that. And to do so we need to be firmly rooted in what our culture really is about. Not the fancy phrases on the company wall – but the things that people do, act and are!

I got a great tip from someone a few years back;

Hang around people who are better than you!

Just imagined if everybody tried to do that – that would foster some really great humbleness and willingness to learn. I love it!

Please comment this and give me some feedback.

I’ll leave you with a question:

How are you a beacon of your company culture?

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