Don’t Chew – Inhale Your Culture

Most entrepreneurs meticulously build their business plans, organizational charts, and boards of directors and assume that the culture will follow. In reality, it is the reverse. A visionary creates the culture and assembles the company around it. It is an art rather than a science and can be counterintuitive.

Research from the Corporate Executive Board has shown that emotional factors are four times as significant as rational factors when it comes to the amount of effort employees put into their work. The feelings of being “fired up” or “burned out” are emotional states.

So what is culture? Culture is the heart and soul of your vision—it is what you want your baby to grow up to be. And this doesn’t mean how big or how much—it is what your company will mean to the people who work with you. When work has meaning, people have passion, and when people are passionate they become more than “workers”—they become a committed, unstoppable force.

To raise this healthy, happy, productive child, you have to be a parent who nurtures and rewards as often as you set and reinforce rules. This means getting hands-on and devoting an abundance of time to selecting your leadership team, ensuring that each person is not only smarter than you in their area of experience, but is committed to your vision.

To illustrate, consider Abraham Lincoln’s reaction to the suggestion that General Ulysses S. Grant—unpopular and reputedly a heavy drinker—should be removed from command, to which Lincoln replied:

“I can’t spare this man; he fights! If I knew what brand of whiskey he drinks, I would send a barrel or so to some other generals.”

General Grant shared Lincoln’s commitment—win at all costs—and as a results-oriented Commander in Chief, Lincoln was willing to buck both popular opinion and the advice of his aides. Ultimately, he would fire five generals during the Civil War, one of them twice (McClellan), in an effort to find men as passionately committed to his vision as he was. In the end, it won Lincoln the war.

Where Lincoln wasn’t afraid to hire and fire until his winning culture was built, I recommend developing “colonels with potential” as an alternate, more rewarding process.


Kim Shepherd
Kim Shepherd
AS CEO of Decision Toolbox, Kim Shepherd leads the company’s growth strategy, primarily through developing partnerships, alliances and as an active member of the Los Angeles and Orange County human resources community. A recognized thought leader by HR organizations nationwide including the Human Capital Institute, Kim is a regular speaker at national and regional events on various business models. Kim joined Decision Toolbox in 2000, and brought her unconventional approach to the company she had admired as a client. Today Decision Toolbox is 100% virtual, with more than 100 team members working remotely across the U.S. This company is a Certified Women’s Business Enterprise. This unique business model has played a key role in the company being awarded the Alfred P. Sloan Award for Business Excellence in Workplace Flexibility in 2009, 2011 and 2012. Decision Toolbox was also named one of the "Fastest Growing Private Companies" by the Orange County Business Journal in 2012. In addition, they have been named 3 years running to the INC 500/5000 List of Fastest Growing Private Companies and have been a 7-time recipient of the HRO Today’s Baker’s Dozen for Midmarket and Emerging Markets. Calling Kim unconventional is an understatement – her former endeavors include 10 years as a TV and Foreign Correspondent, a stint at Club Med and a near miss at a spot on the Olympic ski team. Kim is an active member of the Adaptive Business Leaders Executive Roundtable and the National Association for Women Business Owners (Orange County Chapter). She served on the Executive Board of Trustees for Girls Incorporated of Orange County and is also the Board Chair for Working Wardrobes. She is also a former member of Impact Giving. Kim is the recipient of the National Association of Women Business Owners (Orange County Chapter) 2013 Innovator of the Year Award, the 2014 Enterprising Women Magazine’s Enterprising Women of the Year, and the 2015 Family Matters Award from WomanSage.

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  1. Great post Kim. I have been inspired by Grant and Lincoln since I was a kid, Without our the front line people buying in to culture it is but a dream that never gets realized. Without you having the courage to believe in them and get out of the way, We invite mediocrity. Thank you for Sharing

  2. Great post Kim. I have been inspired by Grant and Lincoln since I was a kid, What it will mean to your people. Without our the front line people buying in to culture it is but a dream that never gets realized. Without you having the courage to believe in them and get out of the way, We invite mediocrity. Thank you for Sharing

  3. I like the article.
    I remember when I did an apples to oranges to bananas comparison of what is a successful business culture. From what I learned and the post postmortems I’ve done, I became very biased on the critical elements for a successful business culture. These elements are:

    1. Effective short and Long term planning
    2. Consistent level of analysis to solving root problems
    3. Willingness for testing sacred cow assumptions
    4. Acknowledgement all decisions and actions are based on incomplete and inaccurate information
    5. Constructive behaviors exhibited when faced with new information