How important is the role of culture keeping in your organization?

The late Peter Marshall, who was, more than 50 years ago, the chaplain of the U.S. Senate, frequently told a story about the Keeper of the Springs. I heard the story as a teenager and was recently reminded of the lesson from the story.

The Story

There was a quiet older man who lived high above an Austrian village deep in the slopes of the Alps. He was the “Keeper of the Springs.”

Many years earlier, the town council from the village hired the man to clear the debris upstream to ensure that the spring that flowed into the village was crystal clear. He quietly and faithfully policed the springs and removed the leaves, branches and the silt from the fresh flow of water. The village was so beautiful that it became a well-known vacation destination. Fall and spring were particularly pretty in the village and visitors journeyed there to see new flowers blooming early in the year and the fall foliage late in the year. The springs provided a habitat for  graceful swans that floated along the crystal clear spring, natural irrigation for farmland, and a gorgeous view from most any location in the village.

After many years passed, the town council met for its semiannual meeting. As they reviewed the budget, one of the council members noticed the salary for the barely known Keeper of the Springs. The treasurer of the council questioned the necessity of the old man. The springs were beautiful and they never saw him doing his work. How were they sure he was working at all? It seemed a good place for a budget cut. The council voted unanimously to relieve the Keeper of the Springs from his duties.

For a little while, nothing changed and springs still flowed beautifully through the village. In early autumn, the trees began to shed their leaves. Small branches broke off from the trees and fell into the pools. The leaves and branches dammed up the water and stopped the flow of the springs. Soon the spring developed a film on the surface with a yellow and brown tint. The water continued to grow darker and began to emit a foul odor. The mill wheels could not turn because of the blocked streams. The swans left and the vacationers found other places to visit. Eventually, the brackish water caused disease in the village.

It did not take the town council long to see the error of their decision. They invited the Keeper of the Springs to come back to work and even paid him more than they did before they fired him. Within a few weeks of his return, the springs cleared up and flowed freely throughout the village once again.

The Lesson

Culture is the spring that runs through every organization and its leaders are the keepers of it. A leader’s primary role is to keep the culture healthy. Just like the keeper of the springs, the role of the leader is to remove the debris that gathers to block productivity and collaboration. A leader’s job is to be sure that the purpose, mission and values are crystal clear to the organization and they are lived out daily in the behaviors of everyone.

Leaders cultivate the culture daily, because they know that the culture is the brand. It’s always worth the investment. If you want to win the hearts of customers, then keep the spring of your culture healthy. An unhealthy culture is toxic, and a toxic culture will impact the care of the customer. Organizations who do not select leaders who care about the culture will eventually become an organization that does not care about the customer. Organizations who do not select leaders who care about the culture will eventually become an organization that does not care about the customer. Click To Tweet

Organizations who are fortunate enough to enjoy high retention rates and large numbers of fully engaged employees cannot fail to invest in the intentional strengthening of the culture. Leaders need to be purposeful Keepers of the Springs ensuring that anything that would impede the organization’s success is cleared away and that the lifeline of the organization, its culture, remains healthy.

When all the measurements indicate the organization is successful, it’s easy to conclude that the Keeper of the Springs role is no longer necessary. The focus on culture is removed and replaced by other pressing strategies and initiatives. No one is keeping the springs. Leaders pursue their own agendas and assume the culture will continue to be healthy because that is what the leaders have always known.

Culture is the soul of the organization. It’s the very core or who an organization is. The soul always needs tending. If you want to win the hearts of your customers, then take care of your culture.

Learn more about how to create a culture that wins the heart of customers in my new book, Bet on Talent: How to Create a Remarkable Culture that Wins the Hearts of Customers.