Is it culture or “just checking the box”?

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How does your team know the difference between a true organizational value and things that “management and HR” require simply because they want to look better just in case the organization is sued or has to deal with outside regulators? 

While we have to be concerned about the latter, we also need to remember why our regulators, courts, and insurance carriers have certain rules and expectations. The goal is to make sure that everyday management practices occur in a manner that really makes training a review of what regularly takes place. Unfortunately, compliance is all too often a time to highlight what hasn’t been taking place, inconsistent practices that suggest hypocrisy, and a lot of prayer that the organization doesn’t get fined or publicly humiliated. The funny thing is that leaders don’t realize that they are sending messages about what matter with nearly every specific decision along with those daily practices. Here are some of the ways that leaders send cues: 

    1. What do you frequently talk about?
    2. What do you spend money on, especially if resources are tight?
    3. Who do you give freedom to and what are they doing with that freedom?
    4. Which behaviors garner reward and punishments? 
    5. To whom do you delegate, and what is that person’s reputation?
      Do you give important work to someone everybody knows you like or trust?
    6. Do you set up taskforces and committees that aren’t producing meaningful outcomes or whose recommendations are ignored?  
    7. What issues do you only bring up at certain times of the year?
      If you do harassment training every November and only bring up that topic at that time, employees think it’s “check the box” training and doesn’t matter, except for liability purposes.
    8. On which workplace and team issues do you solicit feedback?
    9. Have you set up task forces that you’ve abandoned?
    10. Do you proactively focus on team-building?
      Do you only do it annually at the “staff retreat”? 
      How do connect the outcomes of the staff retreat to work throughout the year?
    11. What interpersonal behaviors do you regularly display?
      Instinctively, people tend to mirror the behavior of those who have more power than they do.
    12. Which problems keep recurring with no real attention put to solving them once and for all?

This list of questions is likely overwhelming because they touch every single part of leadership and management. Besides, how do you do this when you have stakeholders to answer to and your own administrative work to complete? 

  • Accept that you can’t go MIA, even if you know there’s too much on your plate. If you downplay it, it’s easy to forget about it. This is simply one of the unfair demands of leadership. No employer can ever pay you enough for all of the time and energy you expend doing your job, thinking about doing your job, and the mental load of constantly being tethered to it. It might help to focus on how much more time and energy you’ll spend on damage control if you don’t get ahead of making compliance a part of how you operate.  
  • Decide which issues you will own personally and which ones you’ll delegate; however, you must also keep your finger on the pulse of what you delegate. 


  • Then, commit to public accountability with your full team. When you commit to an culture of living your values, part of that culture must include communication and transparency. You must be able to share your wins and losses. This does two things. First, it humanizes you as a leader and strengthens your credibility. Second, by owning your status and discussing it, it gives you an opportunity to invite discussion and feedback. Do you know that studies tell us that in 90% of the time, rank and file staff know when a project won’t meet financial or schedule projections, but they don’t say anything due to a culture of silence (Patterson et al., 2013, Influencer)? 


These steps read as simple, and they are easy to intellectualize — but are you actually implementing them?

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