What is culture and why is it important to the success of your business?

Merriam Webster Dictionary defines culture as “the set of shared attitudes, values, goals, and practices that characterizes an institution or organization.”

We take that definition one step further. Dave Sparkman says, “Culture is a pattern of behaviours that tend to predict future performance. Your culture is the character and distinctive qualities that make your organization different from others.”

All organizations have cultures. Every organization has beliefs that form their values and then dictate their behaviors. You do not get to choose whether or not you have these core beliefs. The only choice is whether you shape it, or it shapes you. You can choose to shape and define those beliefs so they take your organization where you want it to go.

Imagine that your organization is a ship. Your business strategy is the sails, your organizational structure is the hull, and culture is the anchor. All three parts are crucial to the success of the voyage. Without the sails, the ship will not move. If the hull is damaged, the ship will sink. If you forget to take up the anchor, the ship stays rooted in place. Likewise, an organization cannot achieve effective and positive results if their culture is fragmented or misaligned with the rest of the organizational strategy and structure. Additionally, strategy and structure tend to get reviewed and addressed routinely, but culture is often neglected, to the detriment of achieving an organization's full potential.

Enforcing behaviors through fear can work in the short term, but people quickly revert to old behaviors as soon as the pressures are removed. The only way to create lasting, sustainable changes in behavior is to influence the culture itself.

What are the Four I’s for impacting culture successfully?


Intentional actions translate into culture. For example, when Dave Sparkman joined Arthur Andersen, they required every new trainee to go to a common training center St. Charles, Illinois. Meanwhile, at UHG, Dave witnessed leadership make a very intentional decision to change the culture because they did not like the way the culture was.

Individual Implementation

Culture is a daily habit, like brushing your teeth. It cannot be outsourced; you have to do it yourself. A company must care for and nurture their corporate culture. And every individual within an organization has the opportunity to influence the culture. These values cannot just be a list, they need to be a living and breathing part of the organization at the individual level.


Cultural change is not a cheap endeavor. It requires time, money, and focus to achieve. However, positive cultural change can reap huge rewards, so we believe it is worth the investment.

Ingrained Values

Organizations must anchor their culture on core values.. At both Arthur Andersen and UHG, their core values were nearly written in stone. They were not just nominal or used as a club, but served as an invitation that channeled the diversity of those companies into a very productive outcome. That’s something many organizations miss. Diversity is wonderful, but you also need core values to build common ground. Character makes you distinct from other organizations. It is not the mere buzzwords such as “unity” or “integrity,'' but how you define and choose to implement values that becomes distinctive.