Company Culture : The Magic Ingredient You’ve Been Missing

Company culture. Dozens of business articles highlight the importance of culture, how to diagnose the current company culture, and how to guide culture. Business owners and managers are encouraged to choose characteristics that will lead to a profitable company and encourage all employees to arrive at work with those principles in mind (see Creating A Company Culture Where Ideas Are Encouraged).

I work at a start-up. The managers spent months ironing out the principles that the company would incorporate into our workflow which would become the culture. They even devised a fun poem to remind us how we should be developing a culture of learning and pride.

Months passed. That culture didn’t develop. Not a surprise. Workers can’t be ordered to take pride in their work. And the overwhelming collection of low performers weren’t being encouraged to improve. Worse, no one was really doing anything to counteract those issues.

Many companies that decide to develop a culture stumble into this very issue. They determine what culture they want, they unveil their vision, they develop half-hearted measures, and then months later they wonder “what happened?”

Dr. Mark Allen, an MBA professor with Pepperdine University, presented a webinar on culture driven companies that reveals that fatal flaw of many culture initiatives: the failure to determine “who is responsible for culture in your organization.”

At the start-up I work with, the answer would probably vary. Some would attribute responsibility to managers, others to marketing, and some to everyone within the organization. That ambiguity is a problem. If everyone thinks someone else is responsible, then no one will actively work on cultivating culture.

As you contemplate who should be responsible, you might also want to consider Dr. Allen’s second question: “who is accountable for culture?” Many organizations might be able to provide an answer to the question who is responsible, but very few will also be able to adequately supply an answer to the question who is accountable.

The question of accountability shatters any illusion that the company I work for is really trying to shape the culture. We might claim everyone is responsible, but no one is accountable. No one is asked in their bi-yearly reviews, how much they have done to shape the culture or why the attempts to wrangle the culture has failed. No one is reprimanded or held accountable for that failure.

And that lack of accountability is a problem. Allen reminds us that “it’s very hard to accomplish anything in business without accountability.” Without accountability, developing culture becomes a fun, annoying, or complicated side project. Side projects get pushed to (well) the side when everyone, HR, marketing, or managers are given more vital tasks that will affect their standing within the company.

Accountability ensures that everyone put in charge of the task will bring their “A” game. Due to the very real potential to be reprimanded in some way over failure to instill a good culture, employees who are responsible for culture are more motivated to:

  • Make thorough game plans.
  • Enthusiastically tackle the plans.
  • Periodically evaluate how the culture has been incorporated within the company.
  • Learn from those failures.
  • Switch tracts if the current game plans aren’t working.

Responsibility and accountability are vital to successfully guiding a company’s culture in the right direction. As business owners, managers, and employees contemplate how to best incorporate a culture, they should start the process off right be determining who among them will be responsible for the culture and how they will be held accountable for their ability to implement that culture.

Photo Credit: Filip Federowicz (filu) via Compfight cc

The Social Workplace: Nowhere To Hide #TChat Recap

“A lack of transparency results in distrust and a deep sense of insecurity.”
–Dalai Lama

Excellent point. But the Dalai Lama’s quote begs a key question: In the social workplace, how much transparency is too much? Moreover, what does “privacy” really mean today, for employees as well as employers?

Obviously, there are no simple answers. And best practices only continue to shift, as social tools and conventions evolve. However, this issue affects everyone in the world of work. So that’s why TalentCulture invited a social-media-savvy HR attorney to help our community explore these issues at this week’s #TChat forums. We were thrilled to welcome Mary Wright, former General Counsel at employment litigation firm Ogletree Deakins, and founding Editor of HR Gazette, a daily online newspaper for HR professionals and employment lawyers. (For event highlights, see the links and Storify slideshow at the end of this post.)

Social Disclosure: Less Is More. Or Is It?

Ubiquitous social media channels. Smartphones with cameras. (Does anyone remember “old school” film cartridges anymore?) Circles of “friends” we’ve never even met face-to-face. It seems like nothing is truly private anymore. Most of us share photos, post comments and tell the world whatever pops into our minds throughout the day. But how does all that activity expose us professionally in unwanted ways? And what are the implications for the organizations we represent?

Here’s the kicker question: In an open social environment, how can companies encourage employees to serve as brand ambassadors, while ensuring that those same individuals use appropriate discretion?

Knowledge Is Power

As many #TChat participants noted this week, the answers start at the top. Senior executives must lead by example and encourage others to follow. Treating employees with candor and respect means that candor and respect will likely be returned. Communicating company objectives and priorities helps employees feel valued and empowered. And clarifying social policies provides a framework that makes it easier for employees to comply. Sharing more information with employees doesn’t need to put employers at risk. Instead, it can create a spirit of collaboration and strengthen employee engagement.

At the same time, employers should respect employee privacy. Again, leading by example is key. Managers should avoid gossip around the office and outside of work. This sounds like common sense, doesn’t it? And yet, I’ve overheard managers openly discussing an employee’s personal hardships, including private medical information. When managers breach that kind of trust, it leaves a memorable impression for everyone involved.

Amplify This? Think Before You Go Social

These days, social media adds another dimension. Employers can no longer afford to operate without documented social media policies. But what should the guiding principle be? Here’s a simple idea from Dave Ryan:

And what is an employee’s responsibility when interpreting social policies? Jen Olney offered sound advice:

Or perhaps for some of us, that sequence should be Stop. Think. Stop some more…and more…and more…then send.

In other words, before posting a comment or photo, consider for a moment who may see that information. How might they perceive it — for better or worse? Ask yourself, “Would I want my grandmother or daughter to see what I am about to make public?” Remember, once you post it, you won’t have control over where it may be seen, or how it will be interpreted. So perhaps the very best policy is for each of us to take responsibility for ourselves, and err on the side of caution.

To see more about this week’s conversation, see the resource links and Storify highlights slideshow below. And if you have ideas, feel free to share a comment, or post in the #TChat stream. This is just the start of an ongoing dialogue — so please weigh-in anytime!

#TChat Week-In-Review: Workplace Privacy vs. Transparency

SAT 9/21:

Mary Wright

Watch the Hangout with Mary Wright now

#TChat Preview: TalentCulture Community Manager Tim McDonald framed the topic in a post that features a brief G+ Hangout video with our guest, Mary Wright. Read the Preview:
“TMI: A Fresh Take On Privacy By An HR Lawyer.”

SUN 9/22: Post: TalentCulture CEO, Meghan M. Biro outlined 5 issues for business leaders to consider about transparency in today’s social world. Read: “Private Workplace Lives In a Public Social Age.”

MON 9/23:

Related Article: Entrepreneur David Hassell talked about why and how trust is the most precious currency for any new venture. Read: “Want to Build a Business? Lead With Trust.”

TUE 9/24: Post: TalentCulture CEO, Meghan M. Biro shared compelling leadership lessons learened from a cultural clash at a software company in transition. Read: “5 Social Skills Business Leaders Must Master.”

WED 9/25:


Listen to the #TChat Radio show now

#TChat Radio: Our hosts, Meghan M. Biro and Kevin W. Grossman spoke with Mary Wright about legal issues and implications surrounding privacy in the workplace — from multiple perspectives: employers, employees and job candidates. Listen to the radio show recording now!

#TChat Twitter: Immediately following the radio show, hundreds of community members gathered with Mary on the #TChat Twitter stream for an expanded discussion about this topic. For highlights from the event, see the Storify slideshow below:

#TChat Highlights: Transparency vs. Privacy In The Workplace

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Closing Notes & What’s Ahead

GRATITUDE: Thanks again to Mary Wright for adding your insights to this week’s discussion. Your legal and HR expertise added depth and perspective to a topic that increasingly affects us all.

NOTE TO BLOGGERS: Did this week’s events prompt you to write about information sharing in the new era of social business? We’d love to hear your thoughts. Post a link on Twitter (include #TChat or @TalentCulture), or insert a comment below, and we’ll pass it along.

WHAT’S AHEAD: Next week, we tackle another “world of work” hot topic — The Dark Side of Workplace Effectiveness — along with two of the HR community’s best-known social commentators: John Sumser, editor-in-chief of HRExaminer; and William Tincup, CEO of HR consultancy Tincup & Co. So save the date (October 2) for another rockin #TChat double-header.

In the meantime, we’ll see you on the stream!

Image Credit: Pixabay