I stood outside, looking at the building. It was nondescript and blended into the landscape as if to say, “I am unimportant.” I am ashamed that I had fleeting thoughts about the care of individuals in a tired-looking building such as what I was looking upon. 

When I entered the building, it could not be more sparsely furnished. Chairs and tables were set in groupings in the central area. A struggling plant was in the corner. My first and second impressions were one of concern, and I had already written recommendations for improvement in my mind.

As I sat and observed the activity around me, I heard my name called. My escort was waiting for me. As we walked, she shared the history of the organization. She proudly recited the organization’s story and why she worked there. She stopped walking and softly said, “I have never felt like I make a difference in any job until I came here.” I was intrigued. 

What influenced her to care about her place of employment with such a deep commitment?

As we continued walking, I asked her to tell me more about the organization. She chatted happily as we walked down nondescript hallways painted with healthcare-toned paint colors. As I listened to her speak, I was struck by how much the organization’s story was hers. She weaved stories of mission and care together as if they were everyday occurrences. As we approached the office of the individual I was to meet with, she turned and said, ” I hope you see the heart of who we are here.” 

As I met with the leadership team, I asked them what they were the proudest of within the organization. Teams must ask this question to refocus on what is vital to the organization. I was poised at the flipchart to write their answers. Typically, teams will immediately say such descriptors as teamwork, our employees, the care we give, and even the beautiful facilities. These thoughts were ringing in my mind from past encounters. 

This team was quiet; they leaned back and silently reflected on my question. They then leaned into each other and whispered, discussing the question. I was dumbfounded. I have never witnessed this type of behavior in leadership teams. Usually, one individual will speak up quickly, with others chiming in. This group of leaders was conferring with each other, listening intently. They would answer not as individuals but as a collective whole. In unison, in agreement.

They answered, “We are proud of our culture.”

Culture is the character and personality of an organization. It’s what makes the organization unique and is the sum of the values, traditions, beliefs, interactions, behaviors and attitudes. 

Later, as I talked with the CEO, he told me they intentionally nurture and build their culture. He knew he could not build a beautiful new facility, but he could make this one a beautiful place to be a part of. He went on to share that they have one standing item on their weekly team agenda — culture.

Many leaders will criticize culture as the cause of poor performance or lack of accountability. Instead of railing against culture, nurture it. 

Start by asking the not-so-simply-answered question, “Are we proud of our culture?”

Martie L. Moore, MAOM, RN, CPHQ, is the President/CEO of M2WL Consulting. She has been an executive healthcare leader for more than 20 years. She has served on advisory boards for the National Pressure Injury Advisory Panel and the American Nurses Association, and she currently serves on the Dean’s Advisory Board at the University of Central Florida College of Nursing and Sigma, International Honor Society for Nursing. She was honored by Saint Martin’s University with an honorary doctorate degree for her service and accomplishments in advancing healthcare.

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