I recently received an inquiry from a Blanchard sales partner. She had a potential client that wanted a business ethics class. The answer was easy: “No, Blanchard doesn’t offer courses in business ethics.”

I described how our culture change process creates an environment where HOW goals are achieved is as important as WHAT is achieved. My sales partner knew that – and this potential client wanted to offer a class. Quickly.

There are some terrific training providers that offer business ethics classes; this client should be able to schedule a class quickly. Whether the class resolves their issue is a different question entirely.

I was disheartened that a potential client had a need that we were unable to help them with. Something happened to prompt this need but the potential client was not interested in further discussion. They were committed to a classroom solution.

It’s vital for senior leaders to understand what training can do and what culture can do.

What Training Can Do

At it’s core, training provides skill building. It offers context for desired skills (which helps learners understand why these skills are important) as well as creating a knowledge base. Exposure to effective skills is followed by skill practice and application planning.

Many course graduates embrace the new skills quickly and embed them into their daily practices. Yet it is rare that more than 20% of course graduates demonstrate new skills one month after a program.

Sustainability efforts can increase this percentage by another 20-25% as they help remind course graduates to use their new skills on the job. In the best of circumstances a maximum of 70% of course graduates embrace the desired new practices.

What gets in the way of the new skills being regularly acted upon? Your organization’s culture.

Therefore, a weakness of a stand-alone training session is that the organization’s culture may or may not support the skills and behaviors the class teaches.

What Culture Can Do

Culture is “the way we do things around here.” Corporate culture often evolves by default, not by intentional design. Typically a company discovers a product or service that customers demand, so people, systems, and processes emerge to support delivery of those desired products and services. The way the people, systems, and processes interact offers good indications of an organization’s culture.

Over time, an organization’s culture becomes immensely powerful. It creates norms and expectations (some subtle, some bold) that are difficult to for it’s members to resist.

If a training class teaches leadership skills and mechanisms (for example) that are more democratic in nature – i.e. the leader provides directive and supportive behaviors, depending upon task-specific needs of their direct reports – yet the organization’s culture is dictatorial, guess what happens to course graduates? The culture inhibits the utilization of the new skills as it provides reinforcement only for those leader behaviors that match the dictatorial norms.

If your culture doesn’t support the skills and behaviors being taught in a class, you won’t see broad demonstration of those skills and behaviors.

Our potential client above experienced something in their culture that caused them to seek a business ethics class to address it. However, it’s clear that their current culture enabled the ethics issue to occur. Without refining the culture, the class will not have much impact.

What is your experience with training skills that your company culture supports or not? Tell us in the comments section below.

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S. Chris Edmonds

S. Chris Edmonds

Chris helps leaders create purposeful, positive, productive work cultures. He's a speaker, author, and executive consultant. He blogs, podcasts, and video casts. He is the author of The Culture Engine and six other books.
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Reader Interactions


  1. AvatarMark Deterding says


    I could not agree more with your thoughts on the importance of culture and how it affects the impact of training. I learned this directly from you eight years ago when you correctly assessed that we needed to first work on the development of a purpose driven, values based culture before training on situational leadership throughout all levels of leadership.

    If we would not have started with the senior leadership team, and worked on clarifying and implementing the culture that we desired, we would have wasted our time and resources on training that would not have been institutionalized because at that time it would not have been supported by the current culture.

    Per your suggestion, we instead first worked on the desired culture, and then implemented the training a couple years later, and it stuck like glue because it was a further extension to the culture that was then being modeled by senior leaders.

    There is very little within an organization that is more important that being intentional about the creation, development, modeling, and institutionalization of your desired culture.

    Outstanding blog Chris, thanks!

    • Chris EdmondsChris Edmonds says

      You are a star, big Mark. You and your team took our guidance and made it REAL in your organization! There is so much we can do to help organizations be magnificent places for people to engage in inspiring work. You’re on the forefront of that effort, my man –