iceberg, Marcia Zidle, VoiceAmerica


Culture is a little like dropping an Alka-Seltzer into a glass. You don’t see it, but somehow it does something. Yes, culture certainly does something! It defines and explains the way a business operates.

Most people can readily recognize companies with a great, effective culture. Take for example: IBM, GE—known and respected globally for excellence and financial performance; Apple and Google—known and respected globally for innovation; Zappos and Lands End—known for quality products and excellent service.

And if we look more locally and from our person experiences, we can recall our local or regional award winning hospital—known for medical professionalism and high level of patient satisfaction; our favorite restaurant where we enjoy fabulous food and excellent service; and our trusted suppliers or vendors from whom we rely on their quality and timeliness.

Culture is like an iceberg
We know from the Titanic that only the top of the iceberg was visible; the larger portion was underneath the water and invisible yet had great impact – it brought the Titanic down!

So, the visible aspects of culture (the 10%) are what we see on the surface: For example, the company logo, symbols, how space is used, the way people dress, the way they talk.

The not so visible, elements of culture (the 90%) are the values (what’s important, what we care about) and the norms (the ways people are expected to act). They impact the organization in three things:

1. Establishes an identity – people feel connected and committed.
2. Aligns everyone’s behavior so that they’re rowing in the same direction.
3. Provides the basis for making the right decisions and taking the right actions.

Essentially, it’s what’s below the water line that drives the organization to success or failure.

What’s your culture?
Culture is not putting nice sounding words on a piece of paper and posting it on the walls. Or trying to imitate or copy another company’s culture. It gets built one day at time, interaction after interaction. So, how to start? Get feedback.

At your next staff, team or board meeting ask: If you had to describe what it’s like to work here, what would you tell someone? If you could change one thing to make your job easier, what would it be? What kind of a person succeeds here? Fails?

Also talk with your customers and ask: What is it like to do business with us? Are we easy to difficult? If you could change one thing to have a better experience, what would it be? Do you exceed, meet or disappoint your expectations? How can we improve?

In a Deloitte Consulting firm study, 98% of executives and 88% of employees believe workplace culture is important to business success. Companies, with a strong culture, outperform companies with weak cultures because their reputation as a great place to work will attract and retains great talent; their people will work better together to satisfy their customers; and their business will take off.


Marcia Zidle, the smart moves executive coach and speaker, is host of The Business Edge ( on the VoiceAmerica Business Network. The show features the Smart Growth System providing small to medium sized businesses the proper foundation for expansion: a Growth Agenda that becomes their roadmap, a Growth Engine that attracts and engages the best talent and Growth Leaders that make it happen. Marcia, the CEO of Leaders At All Levels, ( brings street smarts to help businesses get on the right track and not get sidetracked on their path to higher performance and profitability.

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