Well before I read my first management book or earned a graduate degree in organizational leadership, it was clear to me that people want to be a part of something that brings them a sense of fulfillment. It’s not rocket science. At the 10,000-foot level, most organizations are the sum of their people, and the environment created for those people will either support and encourage them to reach their fullest potential or reduce them down to a smaller version of themselves. A healthy culture is jet fuel for an organization with a strong mission and dedicated employees.

That’s why I’ve always taken the culture of The Center for Health Design very seriously—as seriously as managing the bottom line; in many ways, even more so. It all starts with hiring the right people and not getting in their way. We have some of the brightest minds working at The Center, people not only engaged in their daily work but invested in the larger mission of industry change. Providing autonomy yet support, offering opportunities for exploring areas of personal interest, and not having hard lines on mechanics like work hours and process but rather quality and outcomes all help to keep people connected and make sure that The Center is the culmination of a collective voice and not a singular one. Turning around a toxic culture is far more challenging than turning around a negative bottom line and can take much longer. There’s little hope of sustainable profitability without a healthy culture where all are invested in its success.

Management guru Peter Drucker put it best when he said, “Culture eats strategy for breakfast.” Until we move to a workforce composed mainly of robots, you can invest all you want into your business strategy, but without the people and culture in place to achieve and maintain that direction, things are doomed.

In healthcare design, we’ve frequently pointed to culture as key to leveraging the investment in capital building projects. The culture of a work environment drives the behavior of employees, which in turn directly impacts patient care. Because corporate culture grows and evolves over time, embarking on a new design project offers an ideal opportunity to also assess and possibly rewrite the culture of an organization, if needed.

Leadership is paramount in setting culture. I’ve had myriad CEOs proudly walk me through their newly built projects, and I’m always impressed by leaders who stop a tour to greet an employee by name or bend down to pick up a piece of trash from the floor. Spending the resources on a new building without making sure the culture champions the same goals the building was designed to support is like rowing in two different directions at the same time.

Corporate culture, when teamed with the built environment, directly impacts quality, process, and performance. For example, in the 1980s when our industry moved from a physician-centric healthcare culture to a patient-centric model of healthcare delivery, new designs had to be created to support that change, such as patient and family kitchens to allow access to favorite foods and nurses’ stations that minimized barriers to encourage patients and families to comfortably interact with staff.

All indicators are pointing to dramatic shifts in our healthcare system in the next decade, as technology and new treatment modalities allow for options and opportunities not yet available in our current healthcare system. Add to the mix 74 million aging baby boomers with greater expectations than their parents’ generation, 71 million millennials who grew up with technology and social media at their fingertips, and a healthcare financial model that’s no longer sustainable, and it’s clear that our industry is ripe for change. Having a clear definition of a healthcare institution’s values and being engaged in a way that supports culture change will be critical to capitalizing on this evolution and maximizing outcomes.

Debra Levin is president and CEO of The Center for Health Design. She can be reached at dlevin@healthdesign.org.