I’m a fan of Wally Bock’s Three Star Leadership blog. A couple of recent posts focused on company culture and how easily it can be destroyed to the detriment of company success.

In Home Depot at 30: A Lesson in Corporate Culture, Wally tells the story of how the founders created a company based on trust of its employees, especially knowledgeable salespeople easily found and approached on the warehouse floor and store managers with a great deal of local autonomy. Then one founder retired and Bob Nardelli came in as the new CEO, cutting those knowledgeable salespeople to the bone and replacing 98 percent of executives. As Wally says, rebuilding the culture under a new CEO will be difficult as “the old, experienced people took the old culture with them. It’s not likely that many will come back.”

In Lessons from the Rise and Fall of Delta Airlines, Wally describes an airline so beloved by its employees that they banded together to buy the company it’s first Boeing 767. And business travelers extolled Delta’s great service far and wide as it became the premier airline for business travelers. Then Ron Allen came in as the new CEO, instituting cost-cutting measures and leading acquisitions that decimated the company and its culture.

In each post, Wally offers a few nuggets of wisdom – his “Boss’s Bottom Lines.” These two in particular rang true with me:

“Culture is a slow growing tree. In the beginning it needs protection. But after a couple of decades the culture will be stronger than you are. You need to work with it, not against it.”

“Culture is a powerful but fragile thing. If you burn down the culture tree, it takes a long time to grow another one.”

What is your company culture today? Is it the same culture as always – decades in the making and strong – or a sapling that is just beginning to grow, perhaps after the old culture was burned down? Many companies have been able to manipulate their social architecture to change their culture into one of appreciation. Is your culture one that needs to be destroyed and replaced with one of appreciation?

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