What Is Organization Culture? A Conversation with Rob Maxwell, Cofounder of Keystone Medical Group

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Organization culture

What Is Organization Culture? A Conversation with Rob Maxwell, Cofounder of Keystone Medical Group

Organization culture seems a bit hard to define, yet it underpins so much of what makes or breaks that organization. A good work culture will cause teams to thrive, while a bad one can sink a company.

It is critical to start thinking about – and planning around – organization culture. Because it’s a tricky topic to talk about, we brought in an expert to help us out.

Rob Maxwell is the cofounder of Keystone Medical Group, and he has an impeccable grasp of what organization culture is. We found our conversation to be enlightening, and we definitely came away with a much clearer understanding of how culture impacts an organization.

You can read our full interview with Rob Maxwell below.

Tell us about your background. What do you do?

After getting my degree in accounting, I worked in cost-accounting on a skyscraper project in downtown Atlanta. I quickly realized I did not want to spend my career buried in spreadsheets, alone with my computer. Eventually, I was recruited into a consulting role, which I fell in love with it, and really found myself while working with the two of the Big 8 accounting firms of the ’90s.

After several years in consulting, I jumped on the 90s healthcare bandwagon, first as an orthopedic trauma/reconstruction rep, then, after burnout from the middle-of-the-night surgery calls and weekend on-call rotations, I made my jump to the hearing healthcare industry. I had the opportunity to work as a manufacturer rep for several years and really learned the ins and outs of this unique industry.

My own client base conspired and recruited me into position with a major buying group – they surprised me when a few of them admitted they had wanted my consulting skill-set available in their offices. Once again, I was in a role that allowed me to spend a little more quality time with those clients, delving deep and really solving problems, versus the more product-focused appointments required of a manufacturer rep. It was the perfect marriage – I understood their profession from a product perspective and drew upon my prior knowledge in the consulting and financial professions.

After nearly a decade, which included managing a team for the Eastern half of the United States, I saw the limitations of the buying group model, which didn’t allow me to do proper consulting, and left to co-found Keystone Medical Group.

Most people are familiar with vision and mission, but how would you describe an organization’s culture?

Culture encompasses the values and behaviors that contribute to the unique social and psychological environment of a business. This is a great definition, and this description appears in several culture-related books.

I would like to add to this: In my experience, culture is the vibe or energy of the company. That vibe is ever-present, and you can feel it – either as a customer/patient or as an employee. I remember someone telling me years ago that the moment a customer leaves a particular business, they already know whether they will be back by the time the door closes behind them. I believe that organizational culture makes up 80+% of this decision. We all have been the unfortunate recipients of rotten culture. You can feel it instantly upon entering an establishment or working for a company with a soul-draining culture, and when we leave, we have already decided if we will ever come back. As employees, we never reach our full potential.

Are there certain cultural traits that are better, or does that depend on the company?

Cultural traits are relatively universal – they are like the morals and values of a thriving, successful society. Is there team-cooperation between departments? What is the level of trust between leadership and employees? Do the employees practice empathy toward one another? Do people keep score rather than forgive?

What I have found is that great culture is a result of the buy-in and exercise of timeless qualities that have moved civilization forward and never go out of style. How we get there is the challenge, especially in organizations that have let their culture fall by the wayside.

How does that translate to the employees?

Without a doubt, culture begins from the top down. I have never seen it work the other way around. If leadership is not entirely on board with culture creation, then it is an exercise in futility

Many times, when I travel and am crunched for time, I patronize a fast-food restaurant that has a national reputation for excellent organizational culture. If you have ever been a customer at the counter or drive-thru of this restaurant, there is a consistency of positive culture compared to the majority of their competition. From hiring through every stage of employment, they are obsessed with guaranteeing a specific and uniform culture in all its stores. I was more than excited the day my teenage daughter took a summer job there and picked the brain of the owner, who explained their hiring process. Not all their technique translates to our industry, but a good deal can be gleaned. There is always something we can learn from successful organizations. We just have to translate it to our own industry.

When it comes to hiring, and even working together, are there ways to identify culture fits?

Piggybacking on the last question, it is always easier to hire for a cultural fit than it is to repair a non-cultural fit. So, a combination of techniques is required. One of the most useful theories I have ever encountered is by Enneagram Institute. They created a personality typology system that I was introduced to in the 90s and have used in my work ever since – you can do the math on how old I might be. In those 23 years of daily study and application, I have gained valuable insights into how leadership, management, and employees operate in optimal, average, and below-average situations.

We all have unconscious go-to reactions to daily situations based on our type. In my experience, company culture is the amalgamation of these unconscious go-to’s. The Enneagram is very different than, say, the Myers Briggs (which is valuable in its own way) because The Enneagram focuses on core-motivation and factors in how we react to stressful situations, as well as how we operate “in the zone.” I use this information to find the potential below-the-surface problems that plague an organization, and to facilitate meetings and coaching sessions to bring awareness to issues and begin cultural repair (and then sustain it for the long term).

Having an excellent culture has a massive impact on everyone, as well as a direct effect on the financial health of the organization. Using the awareness and understanding of these go-to behaviors, I can easily map out organizations big and small and help them implement change big and small. Like in healthcare, it is necessary to perform a differential diagnosis before offering an individualized treatment plan. And, for that treatment plan to be effective, the patient – in this case, the organization – must want to get better.

As I mentioned earlier, the best organizations make it a priority to attract the right employees. When it comes to making the correct hiring decisions, experts like Staffing Proxy utilize a combination of aptitude, personality, emotional intelligence, and skills tests to gain insights into the capabilities, traits, work styles, and behaviors of the potential employee. The attention dedicated upfront to this process can mean the difference between a mere functional fit versus an asset, which can catapult your company to new heights.

How would you describe yourself in three words?

Intuitive, perceptive, innovative. If I can have fourth, I would throw in a great guitar player.

Hey, that’s cheating!

Anyway, thanks so much for answering our questions. You’ve given us a lot of food for thought!