Culture versus Cult



What is culture? defines culture as “the behaviors and beliefs characteristic of a particular group.” John Kotter in Leading Change defines it as “norms of behaviors and shared values among a group of people.” In Rapport’s Leadership Breakthrough One, culture is simply defined as “the way we do things around here; it’s the hearts and minds of the people; it’s the living, breathing part of an organization.”

While culture may seem like an intangible, the signs of a company’s culture are everywhere. It’s in how people dress, it’s in how they treat each other, and it’s in how they ask or do not ask questions. Each of these signs sends a signal of exactly what a company’s culture is.

Let’s say I am a new employee in a company and I am told to be at a meeting at 9 AM. Being the new person, I show up to the meeting room at 8:59. At 9:03 the next person walks in. At 9:07, three more people are in the room, and at 9:10, the meeting finally gets started. Did I just learn something about that company’s culture in the first 10 minutes of my first day? Absolutely!

Let’s compare that example with my first day at Intel Corporation. Not only was I told to be on time to my meetings, I was also instructed to come prepared with “foils” and an update on my “A.R.s”. “Foils,” “A.R.s,” I asked, dumbfounded, “What are foils and A.R.s?” Clearly, at Intel they had a culture of punctuality and they also had a culture of preparedness. Furthermore, they had their own language, as well! (BTW: The year was 1987, and “foils” are transparencies and “A.R” means “Action Required.”)

While we may have difficulty defining exactly what culture is, many businesses have even more difficulty defining how their training investment impacts the development of their cultures. While most agree that training is a “good idea,” not all agree on how it improves top line or bottom line results, and even fewer agree on how it impacts “the way we do things around here.”

The answer lies in an organization’s approach to training. If training is approached as simply a “good idea” and has no connection to the work and outcomes of the organization, its value and relevance to a culture is limited. Yet, when training is aligned and integrated into a company’s growth strategy, there is a unifying link between the classroom and the boardroom.

Many of Rapport Leadership’s clients have found success by simply linking their expected outcomes (results) to performance actions (what people do) to leadership competencies (what is learned in training) to optimize their training investment and improve their organization’s results.

There are several benefits to using training as a strategic initiative. Training creates a common language, a common set of behaviors, and a common experience that aligns people’s actions. Thus, a company’s culture and results flow out of the new actions each person takes, every day. Training provides a consistent message about what results are expected and how people are expected to achieve them. When training is aligned strategically within an organization, it is a tremendous opportunity to reinforce a company’s mission, direction, and values.


For example, in Leadership Breakthrough One, participants experience teamwork, support, and accountability at a whole new level. The team supports the individual and pushes each to give the others more. This standard of performance is maintained throughout the course and individuals will “get to do it again” with the encouragement of their team should they fail to meet the standard the first time. From that common experience comes a common language of “no sympathy voting” or “change your approach to get different results” and, of course, “Just Focus and Do It (JFDI)!”

 In just 2 ½ days, each class creates its own culture of accountability and high performance which leads to the behavior of personal responsibility. Some naysayers liken this to “a cult”. When participants come back into their organizations, they will have the ability to apply that same level of support, teamwork, and accountability to their daily work. When a company has many employees applying their training in a similar manner, then the organization begins to cultivate its own culture of accountability and teamwork. Thus, performance improves.

The purpose of any training is to enhance performance. When a company takes the time to understand how a new skill or competency affects how an employee performs his/her job, this single action enhances the employee’s opportunity to use the new skills. And when managers take the time to communicate and share how the training will impact the overall results of the organization, the engagement of the individuals being trained will increase. Finally, as these new skills become norms and as the increase in accountability and engagement spreads, a company has just begun taking their culture to another level!

Cultures are a living, breathing part of the organization. All companies have some type of culture. Every company has the choice to be intentional about the type of culture it wants to create. The question is, is your organization’s culture on purpose – or on accident? An aligned training initiative helps to insure the programs and skills being taught support and reinforce those elements of a company’s culture that are paramount to its success!