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Leaders: Great Company Culture Starts With YOU

(posted: May 20th, 2013)

The Importance of Creating or Changing a Company Culture

In January I wrote briefly about Culture Management as one of several areas leaders need to focus on.

In this post I'd like to take a step back and explore how to build your company's culture in the first place, and why you should do so.

What, exactly, IS company culture?

At the most basic level, your company culture is the way you do things in your organization, and embodies your shared values and behaviors.

Your organization already has its own culture, whether you have created it intentionally or not, and you, as the leaders, are setting the standard for that culture.

"Over 70% of people leave their jobs because of the way they are lead."

~Norman Drummond, author & speaker

Culture As A Business Tool

Why create a great company culture?

  • Drive high performance. Innovation, employee initiative, and growth are all benefits of having a well-defined culture.
  • Increase profits. Studies show that companies with clear, positive cultures can be twice as profitable than those with poorly defined cultures.
  • Attract top talent. That's right, a company with a vibrant culture attracts good people.
  • Retain your current people. Having a great company culture makes your employees feel valued and empowered, so they want to stick with you.
  • Weather change. When your culture supports your employees, they will support the company when times are tough, pitching in, sometimes in surprising ways. This can make the difference between riding out economic storms, or being washed away.

Now, you may be asking, "How do I create this great culture? I'm not really comfortable with the idea of putting in free vending machines, and anyway, we can't afford that."

First, Identify Your Current Culture

The first thing to do is to carefully assess what your culture looks like now.

What does it look like to you, and what are the actual experiences of your employees?

There are many ways to do this, formal and informal, with surveys, reviews, and other tools. This is one of those areas where a consultant can really help. My clients have found it incredibly beneficial to have my "outsider" perspective, developed by spending time in the workplace, getting a balanced, accurate view of their current culture.

"We [the company's leaders] just weren't equipped to work through it all on our own. We needed a DMZ - a diplomatic broker to keep things productive."

~Ed Roshitsh, Granicus COO, KLR client

You may be surprised by the results of your review - it is not uncommon for the leadership of a company to have a completely different view of the culture than the rest of the staff.

Begin Creating The Culture You Want

Company culture doesn't happen overnight.

It isn't something you send memos about and then watch it happen.

A positive company culture is one you have to build thoughtfully and intentionally, with a clear vision and clear, frequent communication.

You have to be a part of it - as trite as it may sound, you as the leaders have to "be the change" you want to see in your corporate world.

Start By Aligning Goals & Values

Your strategy defines where you are going.

Your culture will determine how you get there.

When you plan your business strategy, you set goals, and to reach those goals you create objectives, and activities or tasks which support the objectives and, ultimately, the goals.

Your culture encodes the values and behaviors that let you reach the goals in your strategic plan.

  • Define Your Vision or Mission- Make it clear, free of jargon, and punchy. I'm not talking about a mission statement on the wall, but something your people can rally around.

An example I love is the Lexus Company's rallying cry of "Beat Benz". That encapsulated their goal - to make a better product than Mercedes Benz. Yours may be more than two words, but you get the idea.

  • Outline Your Values - Decide which values you want to encourage - Creativity, Self-sufficiency, Open Communication, Personal Responsibility, etc. Set and communicate these values, set the standard, and then get out of the way of your people (and watch them succeed).
  • Design Processes - Create decision-making processes to support your desired culture.
  • The Right People - Make sure that you have the right people on your teams, and foster friendship and creativity among them. If you have people who can't or won't align with your desired culture, you will have to get rid of them. This is especially true for management.
  • Work Systems - The ways in which your people work, collaborate, brainstorm, etc., should also reflect your desired culture and values.
  • Celebrate! - When you experience successes, large or small, make sure that everyone knows. Take time to savor the victories.
"Kristi gave us a framework for communicating that has really stuck - You hear it in the hallways - people now understand how to work through their differences and get things done."

~Ed Roshitsh, Granicus COO, KLR client

  • There's information here on Trust and how it affects the process of building company cultures.

Creating Your Company Culture Is Hard Work...

You have to talk about it and inspire people to achieve it every single day. It will take time, but...

...A Vibrant, Productive Culture Is Worth It!

Challenge Yourself
  • What are your tips for creating a vibrant organizational culture?
  • What mistakes have you made that you are willing to share so that we can all learn?
  • How have you created your culture?

Images created by Manx Web Solutions


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