One of the great technological breakthroughs of our earliest civilizations was the process used to make cheese. This technology was built upon the use of “starter cultures” to control the “ripening” process of converting milk sugar into lactic acid.
The cultures used to make cheese are derived from bacteria known to produce the desired effects for making a specific kind of cheese. According to cheese-making experts, “the problem is that you rarely know what the culture mix really is, since that can change substantially on the trip from the dairy to your home. Also, you have no idea how healthy it is, due to temperature and storage conditions. In making cheese, it is essential to start with a known, healthy culture source, because if the culture is not strong enough, the fermentation can be just as easily done by an ambient bacteria from the surrounding environment resulting in a bad outcome.”
So, enough about cheese.
Organizational cultures are equally complex and fragile. The original “starter culture” should activate the organization to begin the process of creating a healthy and effective environment. Culture should attract employees, customers, members and partners that share the core characteristics and values. Culture is made stronger by the team of people who embody it, live it and make decisions based on it.
Cultures must be strong enough to withstand difficulty, such as when an individual doesn’t live the culture and must leave the organization, or when a decision must be made that is best for a customer but not the immediate goals of the organization.
Every organization has a culture. Not every organization lives every day by that culture, and not every individual is guided by the culture. But today’s hyper-competitive job market requires an organization to know its culture, live its culture and work every day to preserve its culture.
Do you know what the “starter culture” of your organization was? Who is the champion of your culture today? What’s the one word that describes your organization’s culture?
A great organization, like a great cheese, starts with a great culture.