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The Magic of Building a Culture

Written by: Ralph Twombly

The Magic of Building a Culture

If you build it, he will come.

William P. Kinsella, author of Shoeless Joe

There is a revolution taking place in organizations where new ideas are encouraged and applauded. Employees feel they can make important contributions to their success. They speak up and share innovative concepts. It’s a magical feeling these employees take seriously because they want and need it. As a result, they become motivated to give their energy, support, and enthusiasm.

What lies ahead in the next chapters is an exciting journey based on twenty-five years of working with clients who knew something was missing. Often they could not identify the elusive pieces of the puzzle that frustrated them. But they were ready to find new answers and explore undiscovered territory. To thrive and improve, they had to adjust their sights and move in a different direction.

colaborative decision makingThe magical piece of the puzzle they searched for can be described in a single word – Culture. Together, we’ll open the curtain so you can see the important reasons to build a Culture. We’ll work as a team to transform your Culture into a reality. Very important, you’ll discover how a stimulating Culture will grow your organization and motivate your people. You’ll also find out Culture is a feeling that comes to life by building structures like collaborative decision-making, shared celebration and people focused leaders. All the while a Culture stays true to a guiding charter designed by the people in the organization. 

The good news is once the process of building a Culture takes hold, your people support one another and build as a team. They become creative and excel in ways you and they never imagined.

What follows is a specific step-by-step process that built a distinctive Culture for each organization we’ve helped. I’ve also pointed out some of the booby traps and unexpected errors you’ll want to avoid. 

A word of caution. Building a Culture is not for everyone. Many forces must be pulling together in the same direction in order for the process to work. Those in charge must accept a new reality. They have to be prepared to let go of some controls they have held by virtue of their position. They must be willing to listen and understand they will hear new concepts they never considered as cultural developments begin. 

Before we get into the details of the process, allow me to share some truths I have learned. I admit when I started to develop cultural work, I found myself in an unfamiliar landscape. Nothing seemed obvious. But as the process continued, I became emerged in feelings of trust, ownership, empowerment, and quality leadership on a level new to me. One of the most important realities I discovered was the need to accept a sense of humility and embrace some uncertainty. I mention this because I can appreciate the frustration, doubts and anxiety business leaders will face in the process. It’s a natural part of the way a Culture develops.

You may have heard the expression “When the student is ready, the teacher appears.” The reverse is also true. “When the teacher is ready the student appears.”

Either by a life of preparation, destiny, or sheer luck, I was ready. Ready to be both a teacher and a student. Fortune also smiled on me when several organizations discovered they were ready to reinvent themselves. The timing was right. It’s as if the gravitational forces of the planets aligned and pulled us together. We found each other and forged ahead.

  As a result, the concept of creating a Culture in an organization evolved. It changed and revitalized how we both operated. Of major importance, we discovered how a healthy and dynamic Culture energized every level of the operation – senior staff, middle management, and operational personnel. This translated to a robust and healthy relationship with its customers. We also learned when a Culture becomes the foundation of how a business operates it outperforms its competitors and builds greater success.

Another word of caution. Just as no two individuals are alike, no other business or organization is like yours. I’m not sure who said it first, but the expression “We are all snowflakes” comes to mind – no two individuals in all the universe are the same.

It’s the same with building your Culture. Even companies in the same industry will have their own distinct Culture. To develop your Culture will require original thinking that considers your specific attributes and characteristics. 

There’s more good news. After working with a variety of organization in diverse service, manufacturing, and non-profit fields, we discovered a pattern that provides a method to structure a course of action to build a strong Culture. 

This pattern starts with three steps 

  1. A good idea:

Where do good ideas come from? In addition to business leaders, this question has besieged artists, writers, inventors, doctors, farmers, politicians as well as countless others faced with solving a problem. We’re all familiar with the old adage, “Necessity is the Mother of Invention.” When you decide it’s a necessity to develop a Culture for your organization, you’re at the start of getting your good idea. Your next action as you move forward is you decide you desire it. 

To add some romance to the concept, you could say, “The Father of Invention is Desire!” When you feel the necessity to create a Culture and increase the intensity to achieve it with a strong desire, you’re on the right path. Your next step in the process - establish a platform to make the idea a reality.


  1. A good idea needs a platform

 A perfect example of someone who turned an idea into a reality is Steve Jobs. He transformed his idea into platform where he developed the Apple computer system. 

Another example of someone who built an idea into a solid platform is Johannes Gutenberg who revolutionized printing by inventing moveable type in 1455. Morse and the telegraph, Bell and the telephone, Tesla, and fluorescent light. As they say in the song, “Whitney and his cotton gin… Fulton and his steamboat…Hershey and his chocolate bar.” You can add hundreds to the list.

While many people may have good ideas, they remain unfulfilled because they do not follow up and build on a solid platform. The next step – critical mass.

  1. A good idea with a strong platform will gather critical mass  

Critical mass occurs because a good idea built on a solid platform is irresistible and inevitable. People flock to a good idea presented in a compelling fashion. Think of one of your favorite television shows. It has a good idea or premise – a family comedy, a mystery, an adventure series. This backed up with a strong platform, such as a team of talented writers, actors, and crews. The result is critical mass appeal, or in show business vernacular, strong ratings. 

While you may become overwhelmed with good ideas, the most difficult part in this three-step process is building a strong platform. 

Let’s take a closer look at what goes into a good idea, a solid platform that achieves critical mass.

A good idea works because:

  1. People are empowered and have the tools to succeed.
  2. Decisions are made closest to the customer.
  3. Every voice is heard, and the best ideas become adopted.
  4. People feel and act with the accountability of ownership.
  5. People complete organizational ideas and initiative locally.
  6. Talent at all levels is recognized and appreciated.
  7. Workers are treated like valued members of the organization.
  8. Learning is continuous at all levels.
  9. People want to work for your organization.
  10. Success and profits are abundant.

Qualities of a solid platform:

  1. Ensure authentic support from top management.
  2. Measure initial and periodic existing and preferred Culture.
  3. Build and maintain a diverse steering process that is focused and rotated periodically.
  4. Maintain and evolve a continuous feedback loop.
  5. Build and rebuild an evolving charter.
  6. Develop task teams/crews.

Here’s a check list of key thoughts to consider as you read ahead:

  • Organizational Culture building is here to stay, and the best builders will reap the rewards of happy, productive, forward thinking and fully engaged people.
  • This is not easy stuff, or everyone would have done it already.
  • The glue in the life of an organization is its people and the people’s glue is Culture.
  • Collaboration and ownership are the hallmarks of culturally rich organizations.
  • Qualities of the human heart are important to your bottom line.
  • Train people to be owners in their work.
  • People seek input, accountability, and ownership.
  • Discourage bureaucracy. It frustrates innovation, thinking and risk. 
  • 85% of your people are dissatisfied and 90% want satisfaction from their work.
  • People are smart, informed, innovative, and underutilized.
  • Fear is the enemy of happiness.
  • Build a team, give them the tools to succeed, allow them to fail and encourage them to get back in.
  • Make decisions that build on the strength and happiness of people.
  • A Culture of collaboration is hard, lengthy, and patient work.
  • If you don’t believe in your people, they will know.

Ralph Twombly

Ralph Twombly

In the 20 years since starting Priority Learning, Ralph has facilitated countless learning experiences and has conducted training for thousands of managers and leaders. With over 30 years of leadership development and organizational development background and work, Ralph continues to build relationships with client companies all over the U.S.