Chapter 12. Culture Is What You Do When the Unexpected Happens

Ines Sombra

We all want to work in diverse and inclusive places. We want to be a part of companies with “good culture.” But how can you tell what that means and whether your company has one? You might think that looking at your company values (if you have them) is a good indicator, but values are rarely polemic, and they tend to be aspirational in nature. I’m not trying to belittle how important the introspection needed to derive company values is; I’m merely pointing out that stating a goal does not necessarily make it true.

I believe that culture is what happens when what we want to believe about ourselves is challenged. Culture is what we do when we get things wrong, when we witness a violation of trust, or when we stay silent when an inappropriate comment is said in our presence. Culture is made when we catch ourselves acting in opposition to our values.

Note that good intentions don’t matter when it comes to building an organization’s culture. Even well-meaning people can have bad days, get tired, cranky, or say things that could have been phrased better. But here is the challenge: everyone in an organization is enforcing and creating its culture, and none more so than its leaders.

It’s your responsibility as a leader to understand that your actions can normalize a bad behavior or model a good one. You can ...

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