Culture impacts your business more than you want to admit. It sets the tone for daily employee activity and resonates through every stakeholder interaction. Many hotel owners and managers believe that they can shape culture through new policies and procedures, but those are just artifacts of the reality on the ground.

Ben Horowitz, a leading venture capitalist, points out in his new book, What You Do Is Who You Are, that culture is made up of actions rather than intentions. This is important to understand for anyone interested to impact their culture.

In my experience, three areas of focus provide the greatest impact on culture – leadership, action, and feedback.


Business culture emerges organically in most cases. It’s the sum-total of the daily actions and interactions of your ecosystem.

Leaders impact culture by communicating a vision for the future.

The vision for a work environment serves as a rallying cry and unifying message to embolden a higher purpose. This may come in the form of goals, objectives, budgets, or a simple tag line.

Humans seek efficiency. It’s the reason your health goals plateau after weeks doing the same thing in the gym. It’s a biological imperative. Therefore, leaders should seek to be user-friendly.

Build processes and systems around simplifying the message and communicating it often and in different ways.


Dreams are weak… until the dreamer acts on them.

You built a community of employees with the expectation that each one can effectively execute on their role. Sometimes their execution fits with the culture you hope to create, but often there are some aspects of that execution that you’d like to change.

Leaders can influence employees by coercion or inspiration. Take your pick.

Inspiration is the most effective form of influence when it comes to building loyalty and long-term value for your stakeholders. This tool can take the form of incentive or demonstration.

Incentives apply pressure through social, monetary, or some other means to direct toward a clear goal.

Ben Horowitz points out that he “charges” employees by the minute for being late to a meeting. This sends an unmistakable message that punctuality is important. More importantly, it perpetuates the conversation on company values.

Demonstration shapes the organization through communication using words and actions.

Leaders express the company’s values by being seen and heard. This could be a consistent town hall meeting, off-site event, or even daily stand-up. The way you conduct yourself – timeliness, accuracy, word choice, etc. – sets the tone for everyone that looks up to you, whether among peers or employees.


Listening is the most important part of cultural impact.

This goes well beyond surveys and comment cards. Leaders must watch the actions that drive the results and listen for clues on what needs adjusting.

Valuable feedback requires a safe environment. Follow these two simple rules:

  1. All feedback has value
  2. No retribution

The #MeToo movement made it very clear that even our most esteemed leaders and institutions struggle with these two rules. Your community should never feel like their contribution is worthless or will result in negative consequences.

You may struggle to measure the results from feedback, which may set up barriers to implementation, as a result. At the very least, acknowledge the feedback and invite the commenter to elaborate.

Validation is essential.

Regardless of whether the information is actionable, you should make clear and emphasize to others the importance of this fluid communication.