Back in the good old days of playing outside without hovering parents, my friends and I played Tag. I’m sure most of you are familiar with the game. To get the game going we all gathered around in a circle, decided what kind of tag (Freeze, Tunnel, British bulldog), and then yelled: “not it”.   If you were last to yell, then you were “It”. There was no discussion about when it might be yelled, it just was. Too bad, so sad if you didn’t pay attention or take the lead.

Sometimes it feels this way in organizations when it comes to who is going to be responsible for creating organizational culture. Who can we hold accountable for this vital yet seemingly unwanted task? Well – it’s all about people right? So, of course, it should HR! Nope. Not It.

Corporate Culture is the responsibility of executive leadership – specifically the CEO. The person with the most power, the person who signs the cheques, the person who can fire you, is always going to be the person that determines and reinforces the culture of an organization. If you think otherwise, you’re kidding yourself.

Yes, I’ve heard the pushback about grassroots movements that change everything! I don’t disagree and whom do you think is in charge of that grassroots movement? Who is creating the culture of that group? It takes a great deal of influence and power to usurp the top leader and in the business environment it rarely happens, especially if the top leader is focused on maintaining power and control. A more effective approach for the grassroots movements would be developing open communication and negotiating for change.

Culture is as much about what we encourage as we permit.

And today it seems there is a large disconnect about what we want (encourage) and what we allow (permit). This holds true at home, at school, and at work. I’ll stick with corporate culture.

Many organizational leaders speak about core values, about how we value: respect, fairness, equality, teamwork, and innovation, insert your word here, and how these values will result in a strong level of engagement and ideally strong profit margins. However, most leaders (and therefore organizations) fall short in describing what the behaviours are that support and drive the values and they fall short in rewarding and punishing those who don’t ascribe and demonstrate said values.

For example, Company XYZ has plastered the value of teamwork everywhere. We are a team when it comes to completing a project. We treat each other with respect and empathy like a good team member does. We succeed together.   However, we are paid individually and our bonus program is based on individual contributions. And while Joe wants to be a good player he can outshine Bob by staying late or taking credit for ideas in front of his manager, and Joe will get a bigger bonus or raise. This reinforces Joe’s less than ideal ‘team player’ behaviour.   Time to call HR. Not It! This behaviour has been learned and rewarded outside of HR; likely with Joe’s immediate manager, who learned it from his/her manager.

I recognize some might see that as quite a leap in assigning ‘accountability’ or blame. Maybe it is – maybe Joe was selfish when he was hired (did that turn up in the interview?) or maybe it was positioned differently – he’s a go-getter. Hiring may have been a mistake – by HR and the hiring manager.   Or perhaps what the organizational leaders encourage is minimized by what they permit. Or perhaps the real problem lies in the recognition and rewards program? It’s the fault of the system. Again, who establishes permission, and sets up and reinforces the system? Back to the CEO who set up the system and everyone plays a role in reinforcing it – actively or passively.

A recent survey found that 58% of those who left a job because of workplace culture cited their manager as the reason behind their decision. If we keep leaving, how will cultures get better? How will managers become better managers and how many managers feel the same way about their own supervisor? What are we missing in this engagement/culture conundrum?

I think we’ve lost the ability and maybe the desire, to understand each other in a very basic way and we have the lost ability to accept the role we play at work. Before we can hope for a fully productive team, we need to learn how to interact with each other one on one in a civil manner. Civility is behaviour that demonstrates manners, courtesy, politeness, respect and a general awareness of the rights, wishes, concerns, and feelings of others. Civility is a positive gesture of kindness that lifts people up.

When it comes to Civility – we are all IT.

What can you do to get started building a civil relationship with colleagues?


It’s good for your health and is a universal symbol that you are welcoming an exchange. Your smile conveys encouragement and confidence and studies show that leaders who smile more cause their teams to be more effective.

Build Relationships:

Make sure to have in-person conversations if it’s going to take three paragraphs to answer a question or provide direction. Get up and go talk to the person! You can gain so much more information when you can see facial expressions and catch the tone of voice. If you can’t be in the same physical space then use Skype, WhatsApp, or FaceTime to at least see the other person. An in-person conversation will save you time in the end by cutting down on lost productivity because of misunderstandings.


Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.’ – Stephen R. Covey. There are lots of ways to improve your listening skills pick one each month to become more confident with your skill; add another technique a month later and so on. Paraphrase what you heard when the person speaking is finished their statement. Don’t embellish with your opinion or story – confirm your understanding. This shows that you have been paying attention and that you care about understanding.

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