Why Culture Always Trumps Politics (And Your Employee Handbook)

Company Culture

Bottom Line Up Front (BLUF):

1. Employee mindset drives behavior and results far better than company policy.

2. Leaders who strive to develop belief patterns over behavior patterns are more successful.

3. "People don't care how much you know until they know how much you care" is a bunch of bull.


One of the lessons that I learned the hard way is that while the Marine Corps may be good at forcing you to do things you don't want to do during bootcamp, it strives very hard to instill in leaders the principle that your people will perform better if they want to accomplish your mission. It’s easier for most leaders to simply task their people and assume they want to accomplish those tasks. It’s also a trap for leaders to believe that simply because they enact a policy change or create some new rule that their people will happily and consistently obey and get in step. Believing that a policy can change behavior is akin to believing that the government law can solve all of a society’s problems.

When Southwest Airlines hires a new pilot, they don't merely check their resume to make sure the pilot's qualified. It's generally understood (in any organization) that the person who you hire must be qualified and capable of "doing the job". Southwest also asks the gate personnel and flight crew to report on the attitude and behavior of the pilot during their first two flights. Just about anyone can fake a good interview, but it's difficult to trick a dozen people who you're spending hours upon hours with and who have seen how you've interacted with everyone from passengers and crew members, to tower personnel and ground staff.

Southwest airplane flying above the clouds

“An organization will always be more successful when its people believe in what they're doing…”

The point is, an organization will always be more successful when its people believe in what they're doing, and not merely going through the motions to accomplish a task and earn a paycheck. This is the culture. And while there are about five hundred bajillion definitions of culture in the professional setting these days, it can really be boiled down to one word: personality. Your company’s culture is simply its personality. It’s the attitude, beliefs, and habits of all of your people combined into one pot on a daily, weekly, monthly basis. It’s what they do when no one is looking, what they do when the boss is looking, what they do when the customer is looking. It’s all of it combined.

Here are some quick facts on culture as it relates to leadership:

  • Only about one in four executives (28%) report that they understand their organization’s culture. They know that culture is important, but they don’t fully understand it. (Source: Deloitte)