Why is this important?
Because it means that when it comes to culture, you are never finished. You constantly need to measure and benchmark your cultures. You have to be on the lookout for cultural cancers, and quickly eradicate them. If you don’t, and since cultures determine which humans survive, they could repel the wrong talent.
Culture propagates. It can move fast or slow, but there is no question that it spreads. Just take pop-culture — hot trends travel fast. Or in digital culture, like the adoption of hashtags in twitter — it too found fast adoption.
The same happens within your organization. The good elements of culture (or memes, as Richard Dawkins calls them) will spread fast, as they make people successful, which spawns emulation. But so do the toxic ones. Take a look at what happened with Goldman Sachs and other financial institutions during and after the 2008 financial crash.
Culture also mutates. Every time you bring in a new executive, or acquire a new company — your cultures will mutate. In fact, every time you introduce a change, culture will mutate. And with every cultural mutation comes the potential for toxicity. A perfect example: The effect that Balmer had on the Microsoft culture.
Lastly, culture accumulates and never forgets — unless it is made to do so.
For instance, you can start off with a whole department of people who as a team decide to solve a problem in a certain way, making sure that they bypass all the obstacles that lay in their way at that particular point in time. Over time, you can change out every single employee on the team, and replace them with new people, and find that the new team still solves the problem the same way, even though most of the original obstacles are no longer there. That is cultural transmission leading to bad habits and waste. Note that those bad habits are likely invisible to the team. Changing those bad habits requires making them visible — which happens when you expose them to outsiders or when you introduce change into that group.
Lesson learned: Culture is a moving target. It changes with changes — sometimes for the better, sometimes not. Not paying attention will result in the loss of valuable talent.