Culture can only be what is in the room


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Culture is such a crucial component to customer and employee experience that I felt compelled to write about this!

I die a little every time I enter a new prospective client and I see elaborate posters, clearly designed by some agency, on the wall that SHOUT out the corporate values.

I fear that little by little I will be shown how un-lived they are…

I realised in all the work we have done over the years looking at values and culture, that the things we value can only exist if we are willing to defend it. Unfortunately in many work environments, people have stopped defending what is important to them.

Where there is fear, bad things happen. Where there is fear, love struggle to exist.
I facilitated a workshop with a team some weeks ago where I had them identify the the 10 things that are important to them in life. The things that they need to live, the things they will defend. We then eliminated some until there was only 3 left.

We clustered them into groups amongst a team of 15 people.

We were left with the usual…


This team had all the amazing good stuff. The fuzzy stuff that should make their team a great one to work in, make the environment a amazing one to work in. But they described their environment to me one-on-one as “toxic”.

Fear, disappointment, poor leadership over time erodes a team’s ability to own their values; to protect and defend them and to remain in their integrity no matter what. They no longer take ownership of “their values” and what “they hold dear” and the consequences of this on the eco system is described as “toxic”.

So they cannot be honest with each other, its not safe.
They cannot show up and be real and be them selves, its not safe.
Nobody cares about them, they don’t care about themselves, therefore no care.
There is no self respect and therefore no respect.
Connection is no longer safe, therefor we are business like and cold in meetings and we only talk passionately behind others backs.
No posters on the wall or a leader-dictator talking about the values using powerpoint is going to change this….
The change will only happen when enough people are willing to remain in their integrity and stand up for their values and start defending what those boundaries look like.

I was asked, in my role as an “expert consultant”, to come up with a list of behaviours that would support the values of a company. I cried in my pillow that night, that people don’t trust their team to act in their integrity and more important, are unable to make it safe for their team to be themselves.

Fear is the cancer to culture, it eats away at anything that is good and morphs people’s behaviour into an unnatural mix of bad sh*t.

When Simon Sinek talks about tribal behaviour and the fact that we survived because we stuck together in a tribe, it just sounds fantastic. But we don’t do that anymore. What I am seeing now is corporates have become an emotional hunting ground where some get more power from shaming, blaming and humiliating others. Instead of leading we dominate. Instead of motivating, we inspire fear. And then leaders want to roll in consultants for an academic exercise in defining the values and culture and we wipe out trees by printing posters that mean diddly squat!

If you are a leader who want posters, please don’t call me….

If you are a leader who want to ignite courage in your team, if you want to help them find their truth and use tools to defend their integrity and stand up for their values, please call me.

Have courage! Be Kind!

(This article was written from the heart with love and kindness to the people who are afraid to own what is dear to them. I was one of you for a very long time, and one day I got courage and I said no more. I send you love and compassion. I wish wisdom for each and every leader who wake up today with a knot in their stomach for their own fear and anxiety. Go out there and make this world a better and braver place where we can all be safe and we can live our truth)

Chantel Botha
I'm Chantel Botha, the author of "The Customer Journey Mapping Field Guide" and the founder of BrandLove. I help business leaders to empower their teams to live their brand proudly. I am passionate about closing the gap between what a brand promises and delivers in reality. Employees are often the moment of truth in customers' experiences with a brand. Over the last 15 years, I have perfected the recipe to turn ordinary employees into Brand Warriors.


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