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Culture is THE Key!

By April 12, 2019No Comments

Let me preface this by saying, most people have never worked for a company with a bad culture.

Rather, most have worked for companies with a culture that’s undefined; undetermined – and therefore, left up to chance.

…left up to chance for the person in the organization with the strongest personality to subconsciously set the tone of the company culture. (David Friedman, High Performing Culture)

Research tells us that this is pretty common, actually.

…and that’s not to say that leadership at these companies don’t value culture.

Most do…but when it comes to determining where their focus lies, culture may fall secondary to budgets, business operations, issues, and overall business strategy.

Understandably so.

…but again, this leaves culture up to chance.

94% of executives believe a distinct workplace culture is important to business success (Deloitte) but fewer than one in three executives (28%) report that they understand their organization’s culture.

In other words, leadership knows that culture is important, but they don’t understand it. (Deloitte)

So where is the gap?

Where does one begin to understand “culture” and moreso, how do they put it into action in their organization?

Fair question.

Let’s break it down…

What is culture?

Culture = Values x Behavior

Ok, next…


Just because the equation is simple, doesn’t mean the elements within that equation are easy to digest.

In fact, that very simple equation [definition] comes from the renowned Simon Sinek, author of Leaders Eat Last, and Start With Why (to name a few).


Most companies have a set of core values that they display proudly in their business.

Here’s a few examples that may or may not be listed on your walls:

  • Trust
  • Respect
  • Integrity
  • Excellence

Identifying core values is a standard business practice.

So standard that, many businesses just end up using the same core values as their competitors because, why not?

…but that’s a separate topic for another post.

Core values tend to solely live on the walls and websites of organizations.

What depth do they have?

Patrick Lencioni, author of The Advantage wrote in his Harvard Business Review article that, “Empty values statements create cynical and dispirited employees, alienated customers, and undermine managerial credibility.”


When you create your values with intent to best reflect the nature of your business, you build depth.

The process of defining your core values requires discovery.

Look inside your organization and discover the core values that lie within your top people.

Need help?

Check out Jim Collins’ The Mars Group exercise.

In a nutshell, the exercise looks like this:

  • Step 1: Select 6-8 people in your business that you would clone.
  • Step 2: Focus on these select people and determine what values they carry with them; what values do they bring into the workplace day-in and day-out.

Want to test it out? Here’s a PDF that walks you through how to do The Mars Group exercise at your company. This document comes directly from Jim Collins’ website.

Once you’ve discovered and defined the core values for your organization, you can then begin to build out the behaviors within your organization that tightly align to your core values.


Let’s circle back to the equation: Culture = Values x Behavior

“Only when we take our values off the wall and actually live them can we say we have a strong corporate culture.” Simon Sinek

Behaviors are the actions you’d expect your team to practice and live out each and every day.

They’re written in a way to inspire your team to take action, and in turn, they help operationalize your culture.

Spend less time wordsmithing and beautifying your core values statement, and spend more time identifying and clearly articulating the behaviors that lead your team to achieving your core values.

Jim Collins, author of Good to Great says, “Every institution… has to wrestle with a vexing question: What should change and what should never change? It’s a matter of distinguishing timeless core values from operating practices and cultural norms. Timeless core values should never change; operating practices and cultural norms should never stop changing.”

What are the behaviors and operational practices you need to see within your organization today, in order for your team to live up to your core values?

Where to start?

There’s so many amazing resources, tools and knowledge out in the world to help guide you, but here’s my recommendations.

Read the following books in this order:

  • Start with Why by Simon SinekThis book will help you and your leadership team identify your organization’s core purpose; your WHY. We all know what we do and how we do it, but why do we do the work we do? What gets us up out of bed each morning? What inspires us to do this work? The WHY is the passion behind the “what” and the “how”.
  • Traction by Gino WickmanThis book outlines Gino Wickman’s Entrepreneurial Operating System, which ultimately gives you a framework on how to develop a strategic business plan that centers around your organizational culture.

The three resources listed above will help develop more clarity and vision around your core purpose, core values and fundamentals / behaviors – and can begin to lay the framework for your organizational culture.

You’re a leader. You naturally inspire action.

You and your leadership team set the tone for your organization.

By embodying and living out your core values through the behaviors you’ve set forth for your company – you present a clear path for each member on your team to follow suit.

Patrick O’Neill, the President and CEO of O’Neill Insurance has spent years studying workplace culture, and recently became a certified Culture Consultant for High Performing Culture.

He became certified to not only help other organizations clearly define their culture, but to also drive it deeper into our organization.

As a result of making this internal cultural shift, O’Neill Insurance is recruiting and retaining top talent, improving employee morale, engagement, and performance, and is building deeper and more meaningful relationships with our clients, community members, carriers and partners.

In addition, we’ve established a clear, consistent and cohesive brand message that reflects our culture and our story.

Get the culture right, and watch your business thrive.

It’s been my experience that, the more intentional your culture is – the stronger your business becomes.

We’ll close with this quote…

“Corporate culture is the only sustainable competitive advantage that is completely within the control of the entrepreneur. Develop a strong corporate culture first and foremost.” – David Cummings, Co-founder of Pardot

Want to learn more about the culture here at O’Neill Insurance? Call me at (330) 849-5237 or email me at