Organizational influence

Feb 21, 2021

Be selective with the actions you’re recognizing and the behaviors you’re amplifying, because we’re all driving the culture bus.

Everyone knows that culture eats strategy for breakfast, but you also need a strategy to develop and maintain culture. When things go downhill, if you’re in the fray, it can be extremely challenging to diagnose those critical watershed moments when things took a turn for the worse. As technical people, engineers, and scientists, we love data; we tend to focus on evidence-based lines of thought, backed up by spreadsheets, graphs, charts, and quantify, quantify, quantify! But what happens when we overbalance – that is, when we rely on numbers (or worse, become chained to them), and either forget to or become unwilling to see the other, potentially damaging, factors.

Awards and recognition in business often go to the teams generating the highest of some number like net service revenue, utilization, profitability – and rightly so. After all, engineering, environmental, architecture, and construction are all valuable professional services that contribute a great deal to society. Numbers are extremely important! Awards and recognition don’t have to be formal or official – it’s as simple as the leader giving kudos in the hallway, or a nod to a subordinate’s ideas in a meeting. That gesture of approval is a powerful social cue to others that you are condoning the behavior, comportment, ethics, of the recipient. Your “approval gestures” also influence and shape your personal brand. The recipient’s tendencies (all of them) will then quickly proliferate through your organization.

If someone is performing well, and of benefit to us personally, it is natural to dismiss exceptions which are voiced that don’t fit our narrative. It pays to question our narratives and drivers.

Now, I hope I’ve made you ask yourself who really drives the culture bus. Are they people who make things great? If not, they should be. For a time, my neighborhood was fortunate to be on the route of The Best Bus Driver In the World. Literally, he was referred to as such on local social media posts and earned the county Employee of the Year Award. This gentleman was effectively a part-time employee without specific credentials that I was aware of. But the immensely positive butterfly effect he initiated influenced the lives of thousands of people, in just a few miles of driving each day. Everyone – neighbors, teachers, parents, kids – loved him, without exception. Like the proverbial single, strategically placed pebble that can change the Mississippi River’s course, he changed our lives every day.

You want people like this in your organization – at all levels. Thankfully, good culture, managed strategically, has the potential to proliferate just as easily as bad culture. Ask yourself – as a leader, as a team member, as an owner, as an employee – whose actions are you recognizing? What behaviors are you amplifying? Be selective and hyper-aware, because we are all driving the culture bus.

Stephanie Warino is a strategic planning advisor with Zweig Group. Contact her at

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Zweig Group, three times on the Inc. 500/5000 list, is the industry leader and premiere authority in AEC firm management and marketing, the go-to source for data and research, and the leading provider of customized learning and training. Zweig Group exists to help AEC firms succeed in a complicated and challenging marketplace through services that include: Mergers & Acquisitions, Strategic Planning, Valuation, Executive Search, Board of Director Services, Ownership Transition, Marketing & Branding, and Business Development Training. The firm has offices in Dallas and Fayetteville, Arkansas.