The symptoms are in plain sight. You know your organization’s culture needs work. But, how?
Consciously changing – even tweaking – a culture is hard work.. There is no twelve-step program. There are choices you can make that, over time, will help you repair a damaged culture or sustain and grow a positive one. Here are five you can implement now.
1. Decide that your culture is a competitive tool. Well, duh! Of course your culture is important. Your CEO just reaffirmed it at the last employee meeting as “We Are Family” blared in the background.
Not so fast. Affirming is not deciding.
Company “A” inscribed the words Respect, Integrity, Community, and Excellence on coffee mugs and on a huge banner in its corporate headquarters. Company “B” says it is dedicated to “the highest quality of customer service delivered with a sense of warmth, friendliness, individual pride, and Company Spirit.”
Company “A” was Enron. Company “B” is Southwest Airlines. We know which one really decided to make its culture important.
2. Inspect and act on what you expect. Your company conducts an annual employee survey, right? If not, you should. It’s simple – write down what you believe, and ask people how the organization is doing. Yes, it takes coordination. On the other hand, Johnson & Johnson does it every year in thirty-six languages to employees in fifty-seven countries. You can do this. And, you should do it in every way imaginable – change your performance reviews, ask customers, and talk to trusted partners.
The difficult part is actually doing something with the information. Inspecting what you expect only works when you act on the information.
3. Hire your people. “Hire for fit” is an accepted principle in human resource circles. So why bring it up … especially in a tight labor market where no one is hiring?
Companies will start hiring again. The smart ones will make the extra effort to find those who have their culture already oozing from the pores. Everyone else will opt for the best immediately available fit.
4. Cultivate Culture Carriers at every level. Building a great culture requires that messages be carried to and from every organizational level. Memos from the board room compete with blogs from the front line for attention, relevance, and influence. No one cares what the senior leaders say if their immediate supervisors are not living the message.
Exceptional leaders fight for the right to have great people committed to the cause. They see and act on a greater vision than employees see for themselves.
5. Protect the culture when times are bad. Most major airlines announced layoffs following the terrorist attacks of 9/11. Southwest Airlines announced that there would be none. Which company’s employees volunteered to cut the grass at the company headquarters to help save money?
Anyone can build a great culture when times are good. It takes courage to do so when they are not.
Be relentless at very level, in good times and bad, in finding new ways to nurture, sustain, and guide a culture that helps you deliver the results you need to set yourself apart.