From Fire Extinguisher to Fire Starter – How to be a steward of your culture

What makes some organizations rise to the top, while others struggle? This is a question we consider each time we assist our partners in implementing best practices. One thing that is certain, is that culture plays an enormous role in an organization’s success. When leaders see themselves as stewards of the culture, great things happen.

According to the dictionary, a steward is someone who looks after another’s property. When it comes to healthcare, every leader should see themselves as stewards of a valuable community asset. Being a good steward means more than taking care of property. It means caring for the wellbeing of the entire enterprise, from the buildings, to the employees, the reputation, and the culture. Leaders who start with the culture as a top priority are most likely to have success in each of these areas.

Healthcare leaders who are true stewards of the culture do four things consistently:

  1. Create a clear vision for the culture – this is a crucial first step in creating a culture by design
  2. Establish non-negotiable standards that align behaviors with the mission, vision, and values
  3. Set expectations that everyone will adhere to the standards (see #2)
  4. Do everything they can to ensure success of each team member

Vision for the culture

Leaders are often so busy putting out fires and checking off tasks that culture slips to the back burner. The most successful organizations have leaders who embrace culture as a top priority and are clear about what a great culture looks like. They are true fire starters. The best cultures will not happen by default. They are created by design. Setting a clear vision of the culture is a commonly missed step in many organizations and well worth the time and thought needed to clarify.

Structure sets the path

Once the vision is clear, a good steward will put some structure in place to bring that vision to life in a meaningful way.  One essential step is to establish behavior-based standards that help each person live the mission, vision, and values.

A good steward will ensure that standards are not just a page in the employee handbook. They make certain that standards are alive and well, and embedded into hiring practices, onboarding, coaching, and performance discussions. Setting and upholding the expectations is crucial in living the mission, vision, and values.


Ongoing training and coaching are essential in shaping and sustaining the desired culture. This requires moving past the one-and-done approach to training. To do that, you must ensure that managers have the coaching skills needed to help each employee achieve optimal performance.

Assuming that your managers are good coaches is another common mistake that prevents organizations from achieving their greatest potential. Great coaches are made, not born. Give the managers the tools they need to be successful.

Leadership development is the gift that keeps on giving. When you invest in your leaders’ coaching abilities, you’ll reap the rewards for years.

Want to learn more about how to be a better steward of your culture? Baird Group can help. Contact us at:

Tags: , , , , , , ,

Subscribe to our Articles and stay up to date on leadership practices, employee engagement, retention, and service excellence.

Submit your information below to start receiving our Baird Group articles.