Performance wanes. Employee engagement falls and morale sinks.
These are tell-tale signs that your culture is sick and needs attention. So how do you go about fixing it?
First, three housekeeping questions:
1. What is “culture”? Culture describes an organization’s working environment. How people behave. What they talk about. How they interact with and treat one another. The values they respect and hold sacred.
2. What is the purpose of culture? It enables the achievement of goals. It is a tactic, if you will, that facilitates healthy and effective execution of a company’s strategy because it engages every employee in its purpose. Culture is the engine of accomplishment. A finely tuned engine delivers high performance; a poorly tuned one is hit and miss.
3. What is the “right” culture? There is no shrink-wrapped version of culture that applies to every organization. You must create the unique one that works for you. There may be elements in common with other firms, but you discover this after the fact. Culture should never be copied; it should be created.
Cultural change requires an intervention; you can’t expect it to change without an imposition. The challenge is to move from “this is the way things are around here” to “this is the way things must look if we are to survive and thrive.”
Here are five steps that will create the culture that is right for you:
1. Start with building your strategic context. Culture is guided by the strategic game plan of your organization — “what you want to be when you grow up.” It’s an expression of what the inside of your organization must “look like” in order to successfully execute. Early in my career we had to shift from being a monopoly telecom business to a nimble customer-focused competitor; we needed to create a different culture to take us there. The journey began with creating a new strategic vision that would allow us to successfully compete in a world we had not previously experienced.
2. Develop the values you require every team member to align with. Successful execution begs that everyone is on the same page in terms of how to do their job. A value is a common-held belief, without which your strategy is impaired. Technology businesses require risk-taking, creativity and innovation to be successful; if employees don’t act in a way that delivers these values, dysfunction sets in and progress is eluded.
3. Define the behaviors that are required to exhibit each values. For each value develop more granularity to move away from an aspiration to something that is concrete and more understandable. For example, if “spirited teamwork” is one of your values, define in more specific terms what is meant by the value. What behaviors would you expect to see exhibited when spirited teamwork is alive and well in the organization. This is a critical step. Values need to be translated so that every employee has a direct line of sight that connects what they do every day to the values expected.
4. Assess the inside. Evaluate each employee in your organization to determine his or her “value fit.” Some will transition immediately to your new values; others can be convinced to adopt them and others will refuse. The point is you need to get everyone onboard fast; time is not your friend. Exit who you believe are the “non-adopters”; they will infect their colleagues if they stay and prevent progress.
5. Build your values into your reward and recognition programs. Make the expression of values matter by holding people accountable. Reward awesome “spirited teamwork” in front of employee groups. Publicize your “value heroes” so others know what is expected. Ultimately, include values as part of your variable compensation program, in which the consistent heroes are financially rewarded. If you have a 360-degree feedback program, include values as an important part of individual assessment.
The culture that is right for you is much more than an aspiration. If you don’t follow through with the specific executional elements necessary to give it “life,” it will remain a dream.
And nothing will change.
About the Author: Roy Osing is a former executive vice-president and CMO with over 33 years of leadership experience. He is a blogger, educator, coach, adviser and the author of the book series Be Different or Be Dead.