We painted every room in our house when we first moved in. It needed it. The colors were wrong, and it just felt old.  The before and after was like those house fixer-upper shows. It was like a new house and welcoming to our family.

Many cultures are painted. Paint looks nice and makes you feel good when you walk into the room. Occasionally, you need a new coat. If you peel back the paint layers, you’ll see ugly drywall or wood. The concepts, values, norms, and soul of the business do not show the same outside as the paint suggests.

As a leader, you may need a new coat of paint. Gotta start somewhere.

If you’ve ever spilled red wine on your clothes, you know what a pain it is to remove. It soaks right through, and even though you wash it repeatedly, you can still see the stain.

Cultures are like paint or stain.

Paint covers the old and brightens up a room. It looks good unless you peel back the layers.

A stain is attached to every fiber of the cloth, and although it gets used, worn, and washed, it doesn’t come out. There may be some fading, but the essence of the original is there.

This is your job as a leader. To take paint, make it a stain, and keep it from fading or just being a facade that looks nice.

How do you know if you have paint or stain?

If you don’t know … it’s painted.
You knew which culture matched your company as you read. That uneasy feeling or unknowing feeling means it’s painted.

If you ask your executive team to describe the culture, what would they say? If you asked your team how the vision, mission, values, or purpose drive their leadership and decision making, what would they say? Would their answers be similar? Blank stares equal paint. No similarity in answers equal paint.

Evaluate the organization
Is everything painted or are some things stained? Most companies have some paint and some stain. Figure out which is which and then prioritize. Culture doesn’t change overnight. Pick the most important to focus on for the next 90 days.

Are there any cultural items that are negative? Over time, companies are susceptible to deviation and dysfunction. There may be some stains that you don’t want and will have to use bleach to get out.

What about you?
As you look at your own life, what is painted and what is stained when it comes to: Family, Faith, Fitness, Fun, Friends, and Finances? What needs work?

It is the difference between paint, which is merely laid on the surface, and a dye or stain which soaks right through.

CS Lewis, Mere Christianity

Dan Cooper
Post by Dan Cooper
March 29, 2019
Dan Cooper co-founded ej4, a video-based online training company, in 2003, and was its CEO until selling in 2012. During his time with ej4, he grew the company from a startup to a nationally-recognized firm, serving clients including Pepsi-Cola, Dr. Pepper Snapple, Honeywell, Monsanto and Syngenta. Channel partners included SAP and Oracle. As of the 2012, ej4 was serving 1,000+ customers, delivering millions of program views, was highly profitable and debt-free. Today, he is the CEO of Acumen, a mastermind community platform built for CEOs and Owners of strong and growing companies. He and his wife, Ali, have three children and attend Cure of Ars church in Leawood, KS. Dan enjoys running, all things soccer — coaching, playing and watching —and burning all types of meat on the backyard barbecue grill.