Culture 101: What is valued is what shows up

by Jeffrey Richardson

Recently in a conversation about organizational culture, I made the comparison that just like the common phrase, “what gets measured gets done,” we could say, “what is valued is what shows up.”

Whether it is a private company, in a non-profit organization or in government, organizations across all sectors are heavily invested in understanding, shaping and communicating aspects of their culture internally and externally. Despite expanding research, organizational culture continues to be a topic many institutions and leaders struggle to fully wrap their hands around.

My feedback to partners who are challenged with understanding and responding to their organizational culture is simple: look to your values. If your values aren’t clear, look to what specifically is showing up.

Organizational culture is heavily influenced by our values. How those values are communicated, prioritized, reinforced and celebrated has a direct impact on the issues that show up and the work that gets done. What shows up fills the canvas of your organization’s culture and tells a significant part of your story. 

If you desire to develop a better understanding of your culture, prioritize taking time to be aware of what is happening within your organization.

How do we build awareness? Here are four steps to get you started:

Stop, Look & Listen

  • Step out of the C-suite or manager’s circle and look and listen to how people engage and communicate with one another

  • Listen to the specific issues your colleagues are frequently discussing

  • Pay attention to what gets celebrated, what becomes gossip and what ultimately gets done

Assess strategy and process

  • Once you have developed an awareness of what is showing up, evaluate if what keeps showing up is an output of your strategy or process

  • Determine if these issues have shown up because of what you set out to accomplish or how you have structured getting the work done

Engage Others

  • Invite others to share their insights and to contribute to establishing where you want to be as an organization

  • Then identify together what needs to change

Recognize, reward, discourage

  • You must recognize and reward the behaviors you want to see, and establish real consequences for the behavior you want to discourage

Strategy, process, structure and data are the hardware of your operation. Culture is the software. Just like computer software, the only way you can understand it, assess it and communicate it to others is through direct experience.  You have to login and actively navigate. 


Taylor Enders