Typically, businesses think of liabilities as inventory on hand, taxes owed, accounts payable, wages, and everything else that keeps an owner up at night. Liabilities typically are seen as tangible, quantitative items that can be measured positively, and they’re where business owners focus. But another liability is often forgotten or ignored; it’s viewed as an intangible – albeit genuine – liability. Team cohesion (a.k.a. business culture) can be measured and is a liability that can be turned into an asset. Stay with me now.

Business culture is the only true advantage you have in your marketplace. You can’t control taxes, supply chains, market conditions, and other measurable business areas, but you have complete control over your culture. And, if that’s not enough, culture is how people live in and experience a specific environment every day.

Business culture is neither good nor bad. It can be described as functional or dysfunctional.

Case in point, Sonny, Al Capone’s son, was born into organized crime. Lawbreaking, debauchery, racketeering, and violence were common elements of his life. Solving problems in not-so-orthodox ways would not distress him because that’s how things got done. To an outsider, whacking someone is a despicable way of dealing with a problem. But that’s how the Capone family lived and never thought twice about it. To the Capone family, their culture was regular and strong. The Capone family had a solid culture but was very dysfunctional to an outsider.

Dysfunction: abnormal or unhealthy interpersonal behavior or interaction within a group.

– Merriam-Webster dictionary

Disorganized operations are one of many markers of a dysfunctional culture.

When working with a team with a weak culture, I always start by reviewing “how we do things around here” because most of the time, it’s poorly defined. When the purpose and mission of work are ill-defined, individuals and groups have disjointed modus operandi. That disjointedness leads to, amongst many other things, underperformance. A weak culture is filled with people who don’t endorse or even know the organization’s values, mission, and vision. Most value and mission statements are fuzzy and don’t say much.

Businesses with weak cultures lose employees and customers to companies with more substantial and functional cultures. Owners who neglect culture leave a trail of liabilities that slow business growth and decrease efficiency. For example, here is what most owners and managers experience when coming out of the fog of not understanding the liabilities they have:

  • a greater likelihood of negative word-of-mouth
  • money wasted on ad campaigns
  • having to work harder to lead your team
  • struggling to grow your business
  • jockeying to find and retain the best talent
  • having fewer or strained personal relationships outside the business
  • experiencing more stress managing the business

Start by getting rid of corporate ramblings.

If you want to turn things around, one must look at how a functional and robust culture works. These are the commonalities between businesses that focus and grow through culture. Their values, mission, and vision are:

  • defined
  • measured
  • documented
  • embedded in everyday operations
  • used to inform decisions

You cannot improve what you do not measure.

– Roy H. Williams

The Capone family had every element of a strong culture except documentation (unless it was written in blood somewhere). Few people left their organization. Everyone in the family knew what and how things got done, and their beliefs were embedded in everyday operations. Did they measure culture within the family? Well, there are plenty of history books that answer that with a firm “yes”! Was the Capone family functional? No. Was the Capone family strong? Absolutely.

Bear with me, and let’s flip this on its side. Let’s not focus on how a robust and functional business culture helps but instead ask, “how does a weak or dysfunctional culture decimate the value of my business?”

Culture works outside our consciousness, below the surface of daily life. Your team members’ behaviors, attitudes, and assumptions are ever-changing. Still, you can guide those behaviors, attitudes, and beliefs by bringing culture to the surface. Your culture is the only true advantage you have over others. Neglecting your culture opens the door to liabilities that will hold you back, especially as you grow. To put it in terms, the Capones would understand, “Leave the gun. Take the cannoli.”