I was recently reading a review of a new book by Dan Ariely on honesty, lying, and lying to ourselves. Part of a reported study discovered that when participants were reminded of a set of rules, such as an Honor Code or the Ten Commandants, there was significantly less cheating.
The story reminded me of a company I worked with for many years that had a strong culture of honesty. As the Chairman told me when I first met him, “We bring our own stamps to work”, a message far broader than the simple fact that people used their own personal stamps to mail their personal mail rather than using company postal machines for non-business-related mail. This company was dedicated to high standards of honesty and integrity, and the Chairman wanted me to understand that fact from the beginning of our relationship. It was key to hiring people who fit the culture. Whenever there was a meeting, people were reminded of the values that drove the organization. I never heard of anyone in that company stealing funds or behaving dishonestly.
Simply reminding people of what you believe as a leader can have a significant impact on your organization. A culture exists when beliefs become behaviors. If people do not know what you believe, you will not be able to create nor sustain the culture you desire. Speak up. Let people see in your daily behavior what you consider to be important. And keep speaking up. There will always be someone who hears it for the first time.