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Karin’s Leadership Articles

It’s tempting to blame your leadership problems on the bigger culture. You may even be tempted to let the “if onlys” creep it.

My Team Would Be

  • More engaged: “if only we paid our part-timers like Starbucks
  • Able to delight customers: “if only we had more lenient satisfaction policies like Zappos”
  • More creative: “If only I could give them 20% of their time to work on anything they want like Google.”
  • Absent less: “if only we let them where shorts and sing silly songs like Southwest.”

Create A Cultural Oasis

Learn about great cultures, but then get to work right where you are. You can create a cultural oasis within the most challenging contexts.

After reading Leading The Starbucks way, I called Joseph Michelli to get his view. I asked, what if you’re not the CEO, or even head of HR. Is it possible to create an oasis of great culture within the larger context. His response, a resounding YES!

“Take your small spot in the organization and make it great. Do the right thing despite the organization’s weak points. Your great results will make a difference. People will notice what works and seek to replicate it.”

Many of the principles that made Starbucks a great cultural and financial success will work for teams and departments as well no matter if you’re working with external or internal customers. Here’s a few:

  • Observe and interact with your perspective employee to determine whether they are eager, teachable, and authentically interested in others. Look beyond the normal interview and watch how they interact as a human being.
  • When front-line staff members are passionate about your products, they build interest and excitement on the part of your customers. Get your products in the hands of your people and let them play.
  • Rituals are powerful ways to create a common bond, inspire commitment and innovation. Ccreate unique rituals that make team members feel they are part of something magical.
  • Complaints are opportunities to both re-engage customers/employees and demonstrate integrity; strong leaders look for ways to encourage customers/employees to share their concerns (be a role model for seeking out constructive feedback from customers and employees).
  • Good leaders provide uplifting moments for those who uplift customers. Make a big deal over the right behaviors.
  • Seek to be in relationships (not transactions) with customers and employees– take a long-term view
  • Make work an experience.

Don’t wait for your world to change, change your world. Learn about great cultures, and then build your cultural oasis. Achieve results and your culture will be contagious.

Karin Hurt

Karin Hurt helps human-centered leaders find clarity in uncertainty, drive innovation, and achieve breakthrough results.  She’s the founder and CEO of Let’s Grow Leaders, an international leadership development and training firm known for practical tools and leadership development programs that stick. She’s the award-winning author of four books including Courageous Cultures: How to Build Teams of Micro-Innovators, Problem Solvers, and Customer Advocates and Winning Well: A Manager’s Guide to Getting Results-Without Losing Your Soul and a hosts the popular Asking For a Friend Vlog on LinkedIn. A former Verizon Wireless executive, Karin was named to Inc. Magazine’s list of great leadership speakers. Karin and her husband and business partner, David Dye, are committed to their philanthropic initiative, Winning Wells – building clean water wells for the people of Cambodia.


  1. Ali Anani (@alianani15)

    Karin- I am still abroad, but I love this post.
    You wrote “no matter if you’re working with external or internal customers”. I believe that culture is a resultant of individual interactions among internal customers. If these interactions are unhealthy the emerging culture is toxic to the employees and extremal customers as well. Like we remove weed before plantation, so are toxic employees. There is one way…you got it.

  2. letsgrowleaders

    Ali, So great to have you back. Thanks for your comment. You raise an important point, “culture is the result of individual interactions among internal customers.” Beautiful.

  3. Lynn Ferguson-Pinet

    I’ve had the good fortune of working in both large and small organizations and your post really resonates.

    People can get stuck and feel helpless when the broader culture is not ideal. However, I am a big believer that if you have a can do attitude and set your sights within your own controllable world, you can make great change. I think it’s important though to understand what is within your scope of influence. Tackling too large an issue can cause you to get discouraged. Small consistent change over time will make all the difference.


    • letsgrowleaders

      Lynn, So great to have you join the conversation. I loved your point about understanding what’s in your scope of influence, and making small and consistent changes.

  4. Greg Marcus

    Great post. I really like the idea of creating an Oasis. I don’t think individuals have much of an ability to change global corporate. We all have the ability to try to influence the local environment. That is more doable, especially for managers. An oasis gives up on the illusion that we can irrigate the whole desert.

    • letsgrowleaders

      Greg, I agree. If you’re a leader over leaders, a great oasis means you will attract like-minded folks to lead and follow. They learn and grow and take that influence out to other areas of the organization…. so a bit of irrigation over time 😉

  5. LaRae Quy

    Loved Joseph Michelli’s positive response to your question: “Take your small spot in the organization and make it great. Do the right thing despite the organization’s weak points. Your great results will make a difference. People will notice what works and seek to replicate it.”

    Instead of moaning and complaining about your situation, do something about your own small spot in the organization…a very empowering statement and one that I wish more people would take to heart.

    Thanks, Karin!

  6. letsgrowleaders

    LaRae, I do find that very empowering and a pragmatic way of working in the organization you want. You may not be able to paint the whole house, but you can make your room more like you want it. I always appreciate your comments and insights.

  7. Ali Anani (@alianani15)

    Karin- It just occurred to me if your book is published. I haven’t received it. I am sure it shall rock. In all cases I shall not be able to read it before my return home, the soonest December 14.
    Best Wishes

  8. letsgrowleaders

    Hi Ali, I did send you a book to the second address you sent me. But please know this was actually the book I promised in the post, not mine. I have not yet finished that… still writing. Please know if you don’t receive the package. I have more I can resend.

  9. Rodrigo

    A great article!!.
    The oasis is built in the organization with explicit efforts in multiple dimensions, such as effective P&L management, HR practices, dialog, evident contribution from team members, which ultimately can be measured quantitatively or qualitatively, but it is the overall experience that builds the oasis, not only the water, trees and the amount animals, it is the ecosystem itself.
    Congratulations for a simple and great analogy.


    • letsgrowleaders

      Rodrigo, Thank you. You raise such important points… it is the ecosystem… that is built in large and small ways.


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