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The Puzzle of Culture


"Culture" has become such a buzzword surrounding the workplace.  People expect to see something on the company's website about it.  They ask current employees about it.  They ask about it in interviews.  The fact is, it's a big deal. It might be THE big deal for any organization.  What we've learned about it is it's much more than flexible work hours and bean bag chairs in the breakroom.

It's about "the way we do things around here".  The way this is answered can be profoundly revealing.

Why should I care?

What the organization puts out into the world through its people, products & customer service attracts those who believe what the company believes.  Otherwise known as the law of attraction.  To stay in business you need customers.  Instead of customers wouldn't you like to have passionate ambassadors?

In a Gallup poll from 2023, 67% of employees responded with some degree of disengagement at work.  This trend isn't going in the right direction, almost 7 out of 10 is very disappointing.  Engagement can increase when the environment supports employees' growth, positive relationships, the opportunity to work inside strengths & interests, and provides clarity of role(s) around a common purpose.

Manageable retention creates necessary stability for the team.  Over time this can lead to increased psychological safety as members become more comfortable taking risks with one another.  In this way, the team pursues new ideas, runs experiments, learns faster & becomes agile to stay viable.

All these can be influenced by employees from all responsibility levels when leadership is expected everywhere!

High & Low Performance Cultures

Check out how NextJump (a company dedicated to changing workplace culture) compares these performance signals...

Low Performance

  • Entitlement
  • Victim Mindset (everything is impossible, why bother)
  • Death by 1,000 Paper Cuts (little things go wrong all the time)
  • No Gas (not my job, doing minimum required)
  • Lying, Hiding, Faking (walking on eggshells)
  • Bureaucracy (too many rules)
  • Tolerating Badness (low expectations of self or others)
  • Obsession of Short-term Results
  • Everything is "Mission" Critical
  • Fear of Failure
  • Solo Stars
  • Arrogance & Insecurity

High Performance

  • Gratitude
  • Responsible
  • Get Sh*t Done (teams swarm to get things done)
  • Gas (high effort, lots of care)
  • NO Lying, Hiding, Faking (err on informing, sharing info)
  • Trust (treating people like adults)
  • Brilliant with the Basics (high expectations of self & others)
  • Playing the Long Game
  • Space to Fail / Practice Ground
  • Investment in Loss
  • Comradery (taking care of others)
  • Balance of Confidence & Humility

Key Questions

  1. What kind of culture exists where you work?
  2. Is the organization realizing the one that's desired?
  3. Do you have strategies to help move toward your desired culture?

Example 4-Piece Puzzle

Our Culture
Foster a culture of collaboration & change acceptance through proactive communication & inclusion.
Our Workforce
Support a capable, engaged & responsible team.
Our Business
Advance our business model through the transparent management of resources & revenue.
Our Customers
Deliver a premier customer experience in every way by providing a relevant & vital benefit to their lives.

Each category starts with "our" which places the responsibility on all team members.  As powerful as they might seem, these statements are just words on a poster without intentional action behind them from everyone.  Check out how the four parts of this puzzle support one another.  You can't have collaboration without an engaged team.  You won't be trustworthy to customers without relevance to their lives.  How do you see these fitting together to support one another?

Does the puzzle where you work fit together or are there missing pieces?

What are you doing to help the organization find the missing piece(s)?

You may not be able to change the structure of the organization but you can do a whole lot for how it feels to work there!  Life is short, don't you want to work somewhere awesome?

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The Extension Foundation was formed in 2006 by Extension Directors and Administrators. Today, the Foundation partners with Cooperative Extension through liaison roles and a formal plan of work with the Extension Committee on Organization and Policy (ECOP) to increase system capacity while providing programmatic services, and helping Extension programs scale and investigate new methods and models for implementing programs. The Foundation provides professional development to Cooperative Extension professionals and offers exclusive services to its members. In 2020 and 2021, the Extension Foundation has awarded 85% of its direct funding back to the Cooperative Extension System, 100% of funds are used to support Cooperative Extension initiatives. 

This technology is supported in part by New Technologies for Ag Extension (funding opportunity no. USDA-NIFA-OP-010186), grant no. 2023-41595-41325 from the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture. Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or the Extension Foundation. For more information, please visit You can view the terms of useat

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