All organizations have a culture. For some organizations it is a culture by default and for the highest performing organizations it is a well thought out and implemented culture. It is a culture by design. The latter is at the heart of the organizations that we see over and over on the lists of best places to work. Those lists don’t change very much from year to year and there is a reason for that. Strong, healthy cultures drive greater employee engagement, increases productivity and ultimately profitability.
There are five specific steps in defining and instilling a culture into your organization. As a leader you can influence and impact each of these critical steps.
It all starts here. You have to know what you believe as an organization in order to know who to hire, how to make decisions, understand what is acceptable behavior and shape how your organization is seen both internally and externally.
I can spend time observing your organization and tell you what you believe and value based on your actions. Do your actions align with your stated values and beliefs? Some companies create values statements, post them on their website, in their annual report and on the cafeteria wall and then they are done. This is where establishing what you value starts not ends.
If you have stated well-defined values, determine if you are actually living those values in your organization. If you really believe something your actions will support those beliefs. If you don’t have well-defined values then put together a task force made up of a cross section of your organization and create them.
Everyone in the organization must be in alignment with those beliefs and their actions need to confirm that fact. A great set of organizational values will teach everyone how to act in all situations and set the standard for what is acceptable and how you do things in your organization.
As a leader in the organization people look to you. They listen to what you say. They look at what you do. They take all of your actions into account and then, consciously or unconsciously, decide if you are congruent, transparent and live with integrity.
There are times when beliefs may be hard to live. Maybe you have to make a difficult decision and let someone go who continuously violates the organizational standard. Everyone see’s that decision. They see you modeling the value and the necessary actions in all situations.
You become the walking model of how to live your organizational values, how to incorporate them into your daily decisions and even how to let them have a positive impact on your personal life.
You cannot expect your people to understand what you believe unless you teach them. Communication is at the very heart of teaching and learning. The organizational values need to be a constant part of the organizational conversation. The value of a strong culture also needs to be a part of the ongoing discussion. When people understand the connection between organizational values and the culture of their organization, then they will work to better understand and live those values and contribute to the culture. Meetings should start with or end with thoughts on what you value as an organization. The importance of your culture should be talked about, discussed and emphasized.
Conversations and discussions about your organizational values should happen at all levels of the organization. This isn’t just a conversation for top leadership. This is a conversation for everyone. Over time you saturate everyone with what you value, what that means to everyone as individuals and what that means to the organization as a whole.
Defending your culture is possibly the most difficult part of the process. This is where you work at all costs to not let exceptions derail what you say you believe. When you make an exception on your values then I question whether you really believe those things.
Your values must transcend to what we call Non-Negotiable™. Values and beliefs can never be on the table for negotiation. Defending the culture means making the hard decisions and staying the course even when it would be easier to not. Defending your culture means that you are willing to let someone go who is not living the culture even though they may be a top producer. Defending the culture means that you work incredibly hard to achieve all of your values even when they come in conflict with each other.
You could say you believe in family first and you also believe in getting the job done and done well. Sometimes you have to be creative to achieve on both fronts. When you find the solutions to those challenges, you show the importance of what you value and your culture. In defending your culture you send a message to everyone in your organization that this is how we do it here – period.
Every time someone in the organization does something that supports the culture, make the effort to recognize him or her and what he or she did. Sharing success stories around your values and culture go a long way to reinforce what you are working to build and defend. If you want people to be involved in the community, share success stories about how your people have contributed to important causes. When members of your organization hear about decisions that were made based on your values and actions were taken based on those values, they will want to do the same. Celebrating the success of your culture generates positive momentum and accelerates the acceptance and spread of your culture.
When you celebrate the overall success of your organization and tie to that success the impact of your culture, everyone understands that the culture is important and that your culture is working.
Working on all five aspects of building and maintaining your culture is an ongoing process. It never ends. At any point in time you can take one of the five steps and focus on improving in that area. This practice will keep you continuously focused on your culture and on continuously improving your culture. Breathing life into your culture will show up in the positive energy of your people and superior performance on your income statement.