Culture is an interesting phenomenon. It isn’t easily defined, making it difficult to conceptualize. In the South Chick-fil-A is a fast-food staple and household name. This large family owned company is rapidly expanding throughout the United States where their signature chicken sandwich and waffle fries continue to delight new customers. Chick-fil-A has been successful in large part because of their consistency in providing top notch service, quality food, and a pleasant atmosphere for customers. I don’t honestly remember a time when I left Chick-fil-A without being pleased by their quick service and friendly “my pleasure” phrase. Chick-fil-A has a reputation for employing High School students and purposefully teaching them how things are done in the organization. It is clear that they truly aim to serve their customers and not simply feed them.
Chick-fil-A is certainly an example of an organization with a strongly positive culture yielding a positive experience for their customers. Conversely, the mention of the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) can make the average motorist recoil. The DMV has a reputation of trading niceties for efficiency. Customers are literally given a number and subsequently treated like one. It seems as if employees have been indoctrinated with another way of treating people that is also remarkable consistent.
Culture is not inherently good or bad, but does ensure consistency in behavior. Both Chick-fil-A and the Department of Motor Vehicles have achieved great consistency in the behavior of their employees. A negative person would be chewed up by Chick-fil-A’s culture just as a positive person would not fit well at the DMV. Leaders do a great disservice to their organization if they do not explicitly seek to understand and impact their culture. Leadership is the vehicle for changing culture and I would argue it is the primary function of leadership. The difference between a manager and a leader is the ability to impact and ultimately shape organizational culture.