I received some news this week that reminded me of the critical importance of organizational culture, and what can happen to even the most diversified and experienced entities if  leadership allows its growth goals to take priority over the people that make such aims possible. Analytical research is clear and consistent: 90% of businesses that fail to sustain themselves cite internal issues stemming from or related to corporate culture as the root of their downfall.

Not competition. Not the marketplace. Culture.

I have long recognized this fact, and when I founded Escalate Solutions several years ago, I deliberately developed my Mission, Vision, Value and Culture statements before I refined all of the services I wanted to provide. I believe in the importance of culture so passionately that I have made it a commitment as a strategic advisor to share this method with other organizations.

Accordingly, throughout countless speaking and client engagements, I always make a point to ask the individuals and organizations that I interact with the following question:

“When it comes to corporate culture, what single characteristic is the most important to you”?

Over the years, I have kept a running list of the responses I have received, and below, have included a summary of the most common.  Individually, I doubt that any of themes would surprise anyone….answers like “mission“, “ethics” and “communication“.  These are what we would expect in response to such a question, correct?

If you dissect the list a bit more, you will likely pick up on a few other trends that I have observed and share with my clients and audiences. The first, that this overtly diverse and lengthy list (and this isn’t even all the answers!) illustrates that what defines a positive corporate culture for one person can vary significantly for another. The second is that some of those expectations might be another of the “conflicting dichotomies” that I have blogged about in the past.  “Individualism” vs. “teamwork“; “flexibility” vs. “structure“; “risk-tolerance” vs. “consistency“.  Can any organization accommodate such disparate expectations?  If an employee is more concerned with the physical office “space” in which they work than they are “ethics“, can leaders find a way for the overall team to co-exist?  In some cases, applying emotional intelligence to maximize employee satisfaction and productivity, even with varied expectations, is the answer. Sometimes, however, a company’s culture and priorities are simply not a good fit.

As we step into the new year, I encourage all of you to evaluate your professional environment…what defines and inspires your organization, stakeholders and brand.  Do you have the right priorities?  And are you committed in 2017 to bringing on more employees that thrive as a result of them?  If the answer to either of these questions is no (and you believe as I do that an organization’s culture CAN be improved), grab your partners, colleagues, management team, peers and employees…find a blank canvas and start leading and documenting the discussion.

What characteristics of corporate culture and brand are most important to you?