Organizational culture is essentially “how we do things around here.” It’s not what we say our values are. It’s what we actually do. This quote attributed to Ralph Waldo Emerson states it so clearly:

What you do speaks so loudly I can’t hear what you say.

As a manager, your responses to poor performance and bad behavior literally shape your organization’s culture. And they have far greater power than anything you say about your expectations for people’s performance and behavior.

In this week’s podcast, we discuss two important lessons:

  • Your employees expect you to hold people accountable. The way you respond to poor performance must be thoughtfully tailored to each situation.
  • Institutionalized bad behavior can only occur in a culture in which the managers and leaders have somehow established that those behaviors are okay. If unethical or immoral behaviors are routinely occurring under your watch, it’s your fault. Even if you are unaware of the actual behaviors, you have somehow communicated that they are okay.

Listen in as we discuss:

  • Questions you can ask to discover the root causes of poor performance
  • The importance of individualizing the consequences based on that assessment
  • Why people are watching so closely to see how you respond to poor performance and bad behavior, what it means for them, and what it means for your entire organization
  • How to discern between merely undesirable behaviors versus truly bad behavior and how to calibrate your responses accordingly.

Until next time, manage to make a difference every day!

+ Larry Sternberg, J.D. and Kim Turnage, Ph.D.


This post highlights Chapters 56 and 57 of Managing to Make a Difference (Wiley), a handbook for hitting the sweet spot of middle management. Click here to see posts on previous chapters. Next up Exert Moral Authority. Connect with Kim Turnage and Larry Sternberg on LinkedIn to see their latest updates.

SCROLL TO TOP