How to design a healthy culture

*culture blog video Oct 26, 2022

Your organization WILL have a culture. Furthermore, it will happen by design (with intention) or default (by an unintentional drift). A culture happens every single day, regardless of whether you do anything about it or not.

We want to— 

  • Design the culture we want (think about what we want the PLACE we lead to look like), then
  • Consistently evaluate where we are as compared to where we want be culturally….

This ongoing evaluation process empowers us to close the gap between “what we say” we want and “how we behave” and interact.

That said, here are four steps to designing a healthy culture.


Step #1 = Be the culture you want to build.

We reproduce what we ARE— not just want we want. So…

  • If you want excellence, you need to BE excellent
  • If you want follow-through, you need to BE following-through
  • If you want orderliness and timeliness and…. (Insert every other important attribute here)… then you need to BE that

And, although you don’t have to be perfect, you DO need to be consistent. 


Step #2 = Get clearer about your values.

Again, the most common mistake leaders make is lack of clarity. This is especially true in “intangible” areas such as culture. 

We cannot assume people throughout the organization know what’s important. We need to model it (Step #1) AND tell them as we live it (Step #2). Then, we need to continue re-telling them.

If you’re wondering about the culture you want, ask yourself of a few culture-defining questions. Things like— 

  • Why do we love it here?
  • What do new people like when they come?
  • What’s unique about this place?
  • What keeps people here, or causes them to come back?
  • What is very important to us?
  • When things aren’t going well, what is normally the reason? 

The answers to these questions will often highlight cultural values. 

Furthermore, culture isn’t so much CHOSEN as it is DISCOVERED. That is, culture is often something we already ARE, if we’re healthy…

Core values are often already “inside us,” waiting to spring forth. We can sense them in terms of what fuels us and keeps us going, as well as what frustrates us and causes us to anxiety. 

Note, when you begin looking for core values, there’s a difference between ASPIRATIONAL values and ACTUAL values.

  • Aspirational values are things we WANT to be part of our culture. We ASPIRE to them. 
  • Actual values are the things that already matter. 

It’s OK to choose some aspirational values, by the way. But, they need to be values we’ll actually live and infuse throughout the organization— not just words we hang on a wall or place on a website. 

(In video 2 of module 1 in Killer Teams, “How to Nail Down Your Core Values,” you can learn how to define your values by pulling together BOTH aspirational and actual values.)

By the way, leadership guru Patrick Lencioni mentions “permission to play” values and notes that many organizations automatically “play it safe” and divert down to these… 

What are some examples? 

  • Integrity (or honest)
  • Humility
  • Customer Service
  • Kindness

It’s easy to fall into these traps, because they sound right.

He calls them “permission to play” values because they’re “givens.” Think about it…

If an employee is dishonest, you’re not going to allow them work for you, are you?

These “permission to play” values are requirements. And, whereas your core values should highlight what’s unique about you and your organization, these clearly don’t.


Step #3 = Hold yourself accountable to what you say you believe / value.

Accountability is a common theme in healthy organizations. Even when it comes to core values. 

Our core values should be made visible. Again, we must— 

  • Model them (Step #1)
  • Keep getting clearer and clearer about them (Step #2)
  • Now, we must hold ourselves accountable to them (Step #3).

We continue evaluating everything we do in the organization based on those values. Hire around them. Fire based on them. Make project-decisions because of them.

(The Killer Teams course includes an entire module— 3 videos in part 3— about accountability and how to bolster it.)

Don’t write something on paper and not produce and reproduce it…

… make certain you LIVE what you’ve said is important. 


Step #4 = Create a culture of passion and urgency.

Proverbs tells us, “Where there is no vision, people perish” (Proverbs 29:18).

The opposite is true, too. Where there is ample vision, people come alive and thrive. 

Part of a healthy culture includes living with vision AND being passionate about it… 

Set clear dates and deadlines as you work. This transforms your inspiration into effective execution. And, it bolsters the accountability throughout your team. 


Work on it…

If you’re the leader, your #1 job is to create the culture you want.

Your organization WILL have a culture. Furthermore, it will happen by design (with intention) or default (by an unintentional drift). A culture happens every single day, regardless of whether you do anything about it or not.

And, this is one of our three Gears of Growth. 


Your next step = claim your free Killer Team book at