Culture is Everything Discussion Thread
Hope everyone is enjoying Culture is Everything! Jeff has provided some great discussion questions to get things going. Feel free to riff off of these or post your own thoughts here! I'm looking forward to reading everyone's thoughts on the book.

Discussion Questions for “Culture Is Everything”

  1. What does the author promise to convince readers of by the end of the book?
  2. What else does the author promise?
Chapter 1
  1.  What is the definition of company culture? 
  2. What is the purpose of a company’s culture?
  3. Why are values more important for a culture to transmit than strategy and goals?
  4. Why do an organization’s members not always behave in concert with its values?
  5. What were some reasons why Marshal Grouchy did not obey the standing order from Napoleon to “March to the sound of the guns” during the Waterloo campaign?
  6. What determines the difference between the best and worst jobs in the quality profession?
Chapter 2
  1. Why use a five-point scale to evaluate dimensions of a culture?
  2. Why is this called an “objective scale” when the data within it can be qualitative?
  3. What are the two primary factors identified in determining whether a culture is ready for process improvement?
  4. What three questions are of greatest interest in assessing how decisions are made within an organization?
  5. What three questions are of greatest interest in assessing how change is viewed within an organization?
  6. Are there other dimensions beyond the six offered which you believe to be better indicators of a culture’s suitability for process improvement?
Chapter 3
  1. Which of the 10 archetypes introduced describes your company/organization today?
  2. Which of the 10 archetypes introduced describes the culture you would enjoy working within the most?
Chapter 4
  1. Why does Toyota share its Lean culture so widely without fear of creating competitors?
  2. How  do we determine what cultural dimensions are needed?
Chapter 5
  1. Why should we separately assess current culture as communicated, understood, and lived?
  2. What makes a survey tool a good choice for these assessments?
  3. What makes observation a good choice for these assessments?
Chapter 6
  1. How do cultures effectively transmit values between people and minimize gaps between Desired and Communicated cultural values?
  2. How do we create effective memes for our desired cultural dimensions?
  3. Richard Feynman once said, “If you can’t explain something to a first-year student, then you haven’t really understood.” How does this apply to reducing noise when communicating cultural values to the organization?
  4. How does the power of habit hinder and help the effort to move toward the desired culture?
Chapter 7
  1. What are the three strategies for aligning process improvement with a company’s culture?
  2. Which strategy represents the least amount of effort and risk and should be the preferred choice for most improvement efforts?
Chapter 8
  1. How should we seek to conform to an existing culture?
  2. Why is it important when dealing with blowback to a change to affirm your allegiance to the current culture?
  3. What is meant by, “The people are the prize.”?
Chapter 9
  1. Why did NASA need to change its culture after the 1986 Space Shuttle Challenger disaster?
  2. How is a cultural reform strategy similar to guerrilla warfare?
  3. How do we go about reforming a culture?
  4. Why is stakeholder analysis helpful in reforming cultures?
  5. How does SWOT Analysis help when reforming a culture?
  6. Why is it important to have a crisis moment during the reform effort?
Chapter 10
  1. When should we undertake an effort to transform a culture?
  2. Why does the cultural transformation leader need to have so much authority?
  3. How do we transform a culture?
  4. Why should you have one person on the transformation team who actually opposes the transformation?
  5. Why must you assess the company’s current situation?
  6. How do we prioritize opportunities to defy the old culture?
  7. What is the TAR model for cultural transformation?
  8. Why must we destroy artifacts of the old culture?
Chapter 11
  1. What is the purpose of a founding myth in sustaining a new culture?
  2. What are the key levers for ensuring our new culture thrives?
Chapter 12
  1. Why should our new culture be protected by an Old Guard?
Next to last question:
  1. Has the author kept his promises?
Last question:
  1. What will you do TODAY to apply what you’ve learned through reading “Culture Is Everything”?

Now it’s YOUR turn to ask the questions. 
5 Replies
Amanda Foster
668 Posts
I purchased this book a few months ago and haven't made the time to read it. Now I have more reason to do so! I am looking forward to sharing the experience with this community. 
If you are going to come to grips with the idea of quality culture, you have to align to the thoughts of Edgar Schein whose Organizational Culture and Leadership is one of those influential books that become a fundamental. According,, the culture of each organization can be described at three distinct levels. Artifacts (e.g. furniture, dress code) and espoused values (e.g. customer orientation) represent tangible elements of culture that are rather easily available to non-members of an organization. In contrast, shared basic assumptions represent unconscious beliefs that guide the behavior of organizational members and are rather difficult to specify. Shared basic assumptions are at the core of an organization: they are perceived as self-evident and not questioned by organizational members, thereby strongly influencing the way in which organizational members act, think, and feel in the organizational context. For example a shared basic assumption of an organization could be that all organizational members are highly motivated to fulfill their tasks as well as possible.

In terms of assessing quality culture,the visible quality artifacts can include the quality assessment tools used; the  espoused quality values can include the mission statement and other strategic aspects; and the shared basic quality assumptions (e.g. quality commitment) of an organization is the most difficult to peg down and something we as an organization are striving to get better at defining and influencing.

It surprised me that Jeff didn't discuss Schein, though Schein's influence can be felt throughout the book.

ASQ Press books tend to be more practical manuals than theoretical, so it is important to tackle the book from that avenue.

Chapter 4, Cultural Assessment is really where the book starts coming together. I'm fascinated by Jeff's approach here. Many attempts at quality culture assessments (including the excellence frameworks like the Baldridge) come with a set of criteria to evaluate your organization against. Jeff instead starts from a perspective of start with the espoused values and build an assessment tool that evaluates the artifacts (though not called that) and seeks to identify through that the underlying values.

This is an interesting approach, because it challenges leaders to think of quality culture in terms of the elements they themselves say are important. This then forms the framework for the rest of the book. This is a great way to drive change in an organization, though I wonder if it works better in smaller organizations and in non-regulated fields. Bigger companies, especially in regulated industries, have a deep need to benchmark, and this approach does not seem to have that capability as it is deeply routed towards ensuring the espoused values align with the shared basic assumptions, putting the action to the talk.

I have a lot more thoughts on what comes next in the book, but I'd really like to hear other's thoughts first!

Amanda Foster
668 Posts
Thank you Jeremiah Genest‍ for facilitating this and Jeff Veyera for the discussion this morning. It was very informative and encouraging for me. I plan to spend a little more time getting to know the toolbox better before trying to implement the strategies of this book. I did have some questions about assessing current culture.

1. Is it appropriate to make cultural assessments informally if you cannot get leadership cooperation for actual survey evaluation?

2. Is there value in addressing small cultural issues that are low hanging fruit when the overall culture is poor (I'd say a mix of anarchic and tribalism)?
Amanda Foster
668 Posts
Jeremiah Genest‍ you mentioned the book for next month during the book discussion. I believe that I heard it was The Catalyst by Jonah Berger. Would you confirm that for me? I would like to order it so that I have plenty of time to read it. Thanks.
1. Absolutely---indeed, this is a great thing to do when interviewing for a job with a company. Put the culture to the test---since culture drives behavior, you should be able to spot the actual cultural values in play all around you with just a bit of observation.

2. It depends. If the culture is alien to the direction you're looking to go, small things won't help---the culture will swallow up your efforts. If you can align with the grain of the culture, though, you might significantly improve a project's chances for success.

Great questions!