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House of Cards – The Importance of Culture in Achieving Success

By: Mark Marxer

“The importance of culture in achieving success”

When I first had the idea to write this blog piece, my son asked me what I meant by the term “culture”.   I explained to him in more simple terms, that culture is defined as shared patterns of behaviors and interactions, and cognitive constructs and understanding that are learned by socialization.  Culture is a learned behavior; it is interrelated, adaptive, shared and dynamic.  It is a set of basic values, perceptions, behaviors, beliefs, and habits that are picked up from your environment.  As the environment changes, culture must also be changed in order to survive.

Throughout the last 26+ years I’ve been in business, I have observed both good and bad cultures.  Reflecting on those experiences, I’ve been able to understand the importance of culture and its prominence in ensuring long term success.

For most of my career I have been blessed to work in some outstanding cultures and with amazing people, all of which shared similar traits:

 1.  Strong leadership

2.  High integrity people

3.  An environment that is inclusive to all employees

4.  A shared philosophy that guides decisions

Developing a great culture is about protecting your foundation by strategically building out your organization and partnerships, and through empowering, developing and supporting your partners, employees, and the people around you.  The existence of a strong culture means not only can you see it, but you can feel it, and so does everyone around you.  This cohesion is not easy to achieve and there are many potential roadblocks along the way, however the path to long term sustainable success demands creation of a great culture no matter what business you are in.

I have also witnessed and been a part of cultures that were disastrous, or “House of Cards” cultures, if you will.  In my experience, these “House of Cards” cultures could be identified by one or several of the following traits:

 1.  A debilitating, fear based, and sometimes even “hazing” type environment

2.  Overt evidence of numerous political alliances and/or bullies

3.  Colleagues that feel the need to tear others down to get ahead or position their agenda

4.  Existence of social rules of power that trump doing what is right

These types of organizations/cultures almost always fail, as there isn’t enough acknowledgment of the cultural change needed, poor leadership, and hubris for anyone to correct it.  The culture thereby eventually destroys productivity and potential, and good people leave before the business closes or transitions.

In evaluating business partnerships, we attempt to thoroughly assess and understand people and their value systems.  We want to fully grasp how our cultures will align and how those characteristics will match when we are teaming them with prospective clients.  The ideal partnership is one in which there is adherence to and understanding of the positive traits listed above.  When we find a match between potential partners, we only move forward when we believe the long term potential for success is maximized, thereby putting everyone in the best possible position to succeed.

The most important piece of all of this is to identify cultural dysfunction when you see it, develop the skills to overcome and persevere through it, and do your part as a strong leader to voice and help correct the behavior to redirect the culture.  A leader’s role in creating a positive culture is vital; a positive culture in any part of our society stems from the top down.  As a leader, it is important to communicate well and to be invested in supporting and spreading a positively inclined environment.  Leadership skills and responsibilities must not only be present among actual leadership, but they must also permeate down throughout the entire business.

Creating a strong culture means creating a sense of belonging.  Empower people to create objectives for the business, and structure an environment that ensures they have to work together to accomplish their goals.  A sense of belonging also comes from the benefits that people gain, so instill a recognition system.  Help young adults identify and manage their situation and future, help your partners manage their business, and help your coworkers develop as professionals by broadening and expanding their skills.  Facilitate interactions that help connect people, develop relationships, and work for collaboration on common goals, and ultimately you will build something that is more than just a “House of Cards.”


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