Diversity & Inclusion Cannot Thrive Without a Strong Organizational Culture
Updated: Feb 27
Answer the following question out loud to yourself or to whomever may be seated nearby….ready?
“What is the culture of your organization?”
Are you able to answer that question definitively and in a way that would be consistent with others in your organization? If not, perhaps the Merriam-Webster definition will help you respond:
culture — the set of shared attitudes, values, goals, and practices that characterizes an institution or organization
Don’t feel bad if that Merriam-Webster definition offered no assistance with your ability to express your organization’s culture. You’re not alone.
Why culture is hard to define
Every organization embodies a culture and, undoubtedly, senior management has an idea of the culture they wish to establish and maintain over time. However, most organizations find difficulty successfully cultivating the message around culture. And while many organizations openly strive to create a more diverse and inclusive culture, that alone is just a component of an overarching culture needed to differentiate one group from the next.
The organization’s culture may be hard to define if expectations of leaders and employees are not clearly articulated and disseminated. Are the values of the organization incorporated into daily practices, training, career development and internal and external decisioning? Are they part of an employee’s daily dealings with customers and clients? Whether formally stated or perceived through the action of leaders, the culture is felt and recognized by employees every day — and they will invent the culture themselves if left without guidance.
Creating a culture that thrives
An organization’s culture should be well understood and encourage employees to embrace the articulated values and expectations. Without a well-defined culture that is put into daily practice, an organization will eventually flounder. Employees will come and go, as there is no personal gratification in being a part of the company’s success. Without structure and guidance, it’s just a job.
A culture that flourishes and thrives, however, is one where shared values, goals, and practices are embedded in the minds, hearts, and work ethic of every team. It is the soul of the organization. Employees are either encouraged to do their best and succeed, or the culture that has been created can cause employees to feel unsafe, become frustrated, and leave.
Culture is more than words printed on signs in the office or incorporated into memorandums and slogans on emails. An organization’s culture reflects upon everything about that organization. It expresses what the organization expects and requires of its leaders, along with a roadmap for the way they lead and treat their teams. The culture encourages the excitement radiating from employees when they offer the best possible service to clients. It is the pride everyone shares of being a part of the organization.
A well-understood culture starts and ends with the tone from the top. The CEO and the Board must bring clarity and purpose to the organization around its culture. Senior management must consistently articulate that culture in writing, behavior, and language. Each layer of leadership throughout the organization must mirror the messaging from above and live it every day.
A simple mechanism to make this a reality is for the CEO to host ongoing meetings with a cascade of leaders throughout the organization to share examples of recent actions and strategies that tie directly to the health of their culture.
How the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s culture flourishes
At the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), where Cassi spent years as a Special Agent, she was immersed into the culture well before entering the organization. While that may sound strange, the FBI’s culture — rooted in the three simple principles of Fidelity, Bravery and Integrity, along with the concept of “public service” — is instilled early on, beginning with pre-employment test questions that reflect on one’s character and integrity.
From there, interviews and background investigations conducted during the selection process included discussions of fidelity, patriotism, bravery, and service. Newly selected Agents received training that emphasizes these same principles during class instruction and through realistic scenarios that test a new Agent’s resolve. Special Agents are encouraged to expect greatness and integrity from their leaders, who offer servant leadership and guidance. Regardless of the situation — throughout the investigation of cases, during performance reviews, in ongoing training — the principles of fidelity, bravery and integrity, along with the concept of public service, were continuously reinforced.
The culture at the FBI is so strong that Cassi’s willingness to serve and live according to these principles naturally carried over from the job into her personal life. She shared these principles and concepts with her family, observing the positive influence these values have had on the man her son has become. This culture was understood by everyone, expected by the FBI’s leaders, and reflected in everything the Bureau did.
A vision of modern workplace culture
In today’s fast-paced society, you may wonder what exactly is the vision of a culture that any senior leader would aspire to achieve? What are people thirsting for in an organization? What would attract the diverse talent needed to build an amazing organization? Allow us to introduce you to a Latin word:
Vigeo — to be active and effective; to be strong and vigorous which leads to thriving, flourishing and blooming.”
We chose this word as the name of our company as we strive to bring to life a culture of leadership that permeates every level of an organization.
In our view, retired professional football coach Tony Dungy sums up thriving workplace culture best in his book The Mentor Leader:
“Instead of asking, how can I lead my company, my team, or my family to a higher level of success, we should be asking ourselves, how do others around me flourish as a result of my leadership? Do they flourish at all? How does my leadership, my involvement in their lives have a positive and lasting influence and impact on them?”
The Mentor Leader offers a powerful premise that perfectly describes the culture in a thriving organization where all leaders accept this responsibility to not just lead people to be successful in their jobs, but to mentor those around them to exceed their own expectations as a person in all aspects of their lives. Such a culture inspires individuals to coach and support those that don’t even report to them. This also describes an organization built around the premise of servant leadership, similar to the culture at the FBI. Leaders do not limit their influence on those they have direct responsibility for; they are forever looking for opportunities to lift another person to become the best version of themselves.
At Vigeo Alliance, we strongly believe that a critical step in maintaining and securing a strong organizational culture lies in the investment in emerging leaders at an early stage in their professional development. Senior management must dedicate time and resources to instill its culture in the next generation of diverse, talented, and hungry future leaders so they will grow and nurture a thriving culture that’s built to last.
If your organization is not in a place where you can confidently describe the culture, ask us how we can help you get there.