Is Your Company Culture Developing By Design or Default?

BY C. Lee Smith
Featured image for “Is Your Company Culture Developing By Design or Default?”

In a perfect world, employees would all get along, leaders would actively manage, and revenue would rise. Very few organizations have achieved that kind of perfection. Typically, organizations struggle because the culture and the underlying interpersonal relationships need attention. Dr. Randy Ross, author of Remarkable and Relationomics, calls himself a chief enthusiasm officer. In a recent Manage Smarter podcast, he told us what it takes to design a company culture on the basis of positive employee interactions. 

In any organization, especially larger ones, employees who tend to be very good, in a technical sense, at their jobs get promoted. They find themselves heading up big teams, but they’re not exactly sure how to proceed. Meanwhile, team members look to their leaders to be inspired. To provide that inspiration, leaders should concentrate on four aspects of interpersonal relationships.


This element speaks to the conscious need for cultural design. If you don’t think about how you want your culture to develop, it will grow on its own. Without intentionality, the culture may end up including elements you don’t agree with as a leader. 

When you think specifically about how you want team members to interact, you’re influencing culture. To improve your organization’s health, you must consciously communicate the changes you want. Maybe you want everyone to address each other, including the CEO, by first name, to emphasize a relaxed culture. Or you could insist that team members speak to each other respectfully when they disagree about the direction the company should take.


The concept of humility runs counter to the culture that develops in many hard-​charging organizations. Employees lock into battles with competitors that are racing to grab market share. Sooner or later, those battles end. If you haven’t addressed the topic of humility, you’ll end up with team members who may continue to compete with each other for the best customers. Instead of encouraging self-​service, lead by the example of looking out for everyone in the organization. 


More than one of our Manage Smarter podcast guests has discussed the importance of accountability, especially in terms of managing employee productivity. Delivering feedback that’s intended to improve employee growth isn’t easy. Good managers must work on finding the best way to interact positively with each employee when their performance needs improvement. 


Developing culture and healthy interpersonal relationships in an organizational setting isn’t a one-​off activity. Good leaders and managers must constantly take the pulse of the organization in the context of the wider world and make changes to stay current.

Personal Development for Managers

As a leader, you should actively work on all four aspects of culture setting and interpersonal relationships in the organization. At the same time, you should determine where you stand in the realm of interpersonal relationships. Do your team members believe you’re trustworthy? Do they feel comfortable coming to you with a problem and believe you’ll truly listen?

You can’t objectively answer those questions. You’ll need to get honest feedback from a trusted colleague. Ask this individual for specific feedback and to rank you on a proficiency you care about. It might be leading meetings or following up on project deliverables. 

Often, the scores come back lower than you hoped. Maybe your colleague tells you that you constantly get off topic during meetings. If you really want to improve, ask your colleague what it would take for you to get to a score of ten. With that information, it’s up to you to take steps to improve and check in regularly to measure progress.

We all have our definitions of culture. I believe it’s what brings your team together and what sets your team apart. Ross says culture is “a place where people believe the best in one another. They want the best for one another and they expect the best from one another.” Regardless of your definition, taking deliberate steps to improve culture and your team members’ interpersonal relationships will positively impact your bottom line.