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Show Me What You Will (Or Won’t) Tolerate…

And I'll show you culture.

Much has been made about culture in the corporate world. If you’ve spent any time in that environment, you’ve no doubt heard some version of the following questions during a meeting or leadership presentation: What is our culture? What do we want our culture to be? How would you define our culture? What do we want to be known for?

Countless articles and books have been written about culture. Consultants get paid a lot of money to help companies and teams identify it. Looking back on my 20 years in the corporate world, I believe culture comes down to one thing: what you will (or won’t) tolerate. Plain and simple. It’s not about ping-pong tables in the break room or bringing your pet to work. You might have all the perks you can dream of, but your culture can still stink. The word “tolerate” carries a negative connotation, and rightfully so. It means to be indifferent, to allow, to look the other way.

If you ask 10 people in the same company to define the company’s culture, you’ll probably get 10 different answers. And it’s because everyone has a different experience, based on what they’ve observed, or what has happened to them personally. Based on those experiences or observations, they have their own idea of the company’s culture.

Having spent half of my career in the HR function, I was always befuddled by the contradiction between words and actions when it came to companies talking about how people-centric they were. A company might say that they value their employees yet, time after time, leaders are not held accountable for any metrics relating to the development of, or feedback from, their people.

In the companies where I worked, we’d offer leadership development sessions until the cows came home, but the suggestions for improvement were rarely implemented. I’m sure the thinking was along the lines of “If it’s not something to which I’m going to be held accountable, why should I bother wasting my time on this? I need to focus on the financial targets; that’s what my bonus is based on!”

If negative actions don’t result in negative consequences, your culture will be one in which it is understood that people aren’t going to be held accountable for their actions. And the same goes for positive outcomes! If exceptional performance isn’t rewarded, you will encourage mediocrity. Neither of which sound like a very fun place to spend a majority of your waking hours.

Your family culture is no different.

This topic has come to light this week. Our son doesn’t start back to school for a couple more weeks, and he’s not enrolled in any camps this week, so he’s at home with me this week. While he was helping me with laundry yesterday, I told him that he needed to do a better job of neatly folding his clothes. He made a comment along the lines of “Oh my gosh, you’re so worried about things being neat! And you love recycling!” Not sure how the two are related, but he was clearly using the opportunity to vent! He has obviously learned that I think recycling is important, and he knows I’m all about taking pride in your work.

We are doing our best to build a culture in our home that values citizenship, empathy, environmental stewardship, and finishing the job the right way – without cutting corners. I’ve said before that I believe being a parent is one of the hardest jobs out there. But we don’t make it any easier on future selves when we create a home culture of entitlement without consequences. I can’t help but wonder what parents are thinking when their children continue to misbehave, without any repercussions. And I’ve seen this behavior manifest itself in adult children that I know too – mainly because they’re still getting away with murder with their own parents.

If it came down to it, how would you define the culture in your family? Better yet, how would others define it? What behaviors do you tolerate (that you know you shouldn’t)? What behaviors do you not tolerate (and have made it clear that you don’t)?

In an office environment, the more negative actions that leaders tolerate, the less desirable the culture will be for the people working in the company. In our home environment, this type of culture might be great for our children, but it will make it miserable for the parents.

But, if leaders make it clear that they don’t tolerate negative actions, you will have a culture of engagement and positivity. This may be difficult for the children to get used to at home but, when they’re older and seeing the world from a new perspective, they’ll thank you for it.

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