Over time, most organizations descend to the mean.What happens in such cases is slow and simple: people start taking things as if they are entitled - to the culture, to their right to define culture, and to their special right to understand how the company works.
This is not a designed event.
It happens gradually as people become comfortable with their success.
It is also a result of the very factors that made the place extraordinary in the first place.
Extraordinary results come from founders and their mindset that is coded into behaviors that reinforce each other: scale that comes from a shared understanding; the understanding that forms a culture; culture that drives the quality of interactions; quality of interactions that result in people being friends with co-workers (and vice-versa); the natural give-and-take of social norms that becomes the unwritten cookbook.
Without care, these very same factors become a potential place of stasis.
What happens cannot be noticed easily.
Most of us embrace the culture, some painfully, some naturally.
Except, of course, the beginners who have fresh eyes, and the job interview candidates who see the various interactions as a window into the culture.
For people to whom signs and slogans aren't everyday knowledge, the signal comes out of reality they see.
Different people react differently to how this presents itself in their daily lives.
Those inexperienced in working at diverse places start imitating the overt signs of the culture. They become the current culture. Easily and naturally.
The experienced ones try to do what the local culture tells them to do. But this lands them into a fork in the road -- to do what the culture tells you, you have to create it, not just absorb it.
How does one succeed? After having done this many times, within the same organization and in multiple organizations, the moment of epiphany arrived:
Imagine that every day, every interaction, was like a job interview session (given, or taken)
This has changed how I perceive and rate myself. Not by money or other measures of company success, but by what purpose I represent, what value I deliver.
The lesson is: look at every interaction as if your response would help you gain entry into a new company, or gain a new customer, a new employee, or a new supplier.
If your constituents followed your regular conversation, will they buy it?
Some things about a culture are pointers for the real thing, but should not be confused for it. Examples - directness, plain speak, openness.
Yes, these are important. But habits diverge from reality over time, and morph into something else. Like, being direct and maybe crossing over into rude; being honest to the point of crossing over lines drawn by policy, law and basic decency; being sarcastic, but maybe crossing over into contempt; using relationships as a way to move things, but crossing over into creating exclusive fast lanes.
Courtesy and Service
Courtesy, attitude of service, transparency and good intentions aren't explicitly defined in any culture. But they are above anything else. Newbies, interview candidates and customers expect this from you. (Even assuming Akerlof's "Markets for Lemons" exist, this is still true).
Extraordinary organizations pull far more weight to make courtesy and service happen, more than what the average would lead you to believe.
The normal path for most people would be to work for something of personal worth.
The real path is to always work on something of universal value.
As an individual, treating some day, many days, or everyday as if it was your interview day (as a candidate, or as a recruiting manager/employee) with everyone around you is a way to keep the culture of any place alive, and to forge the real path.