Think of corporate culture as the operating system of your business. When your corporate culture is not optimized, your employees may appear to be professionally committed, but, in reality, they are not fully engaged, accountable or committed to excellence. As Prof. James L. Heskett wrote in his book The Culture Cycle, effective culture can account for 20-30 percent of the differential in corporate performance when compared with “culturally unremarkable” competitors.
At Dynamic Achievement, we specialize in helping organizations develop cultures of excellence – cultures that focus and engage people to consistently deliver exceptional results through collaboration and innovation. In this type of environment, organizations support their employees to develop the flexibility and resilience to deal with change, challenge and uncertainty.
That being said, there are several things organizations can do to start shifting their culture in the direction they want that don’t involve consultants and cost. Here are my Top Five recommendations for those who take the importance of corporate culture seriously:
1. Be clear about the culture you want
This might sound overly simple, but I can tell you that time after time when I ask leaders this question, I get a lot of vague responses and usually something along the lines of “…well, we just need to communicate better….” This is fundamentally why organizations spend endless time and money trying to develop culture and get nowhere: because they had no clear idea of where they were going in the first place. To take this one step further, what this point really means is to be clear about your business strategy and what it is about the culture that will help or hinder you from achieving it. Changing culture for the heck of it is pointless; any culture change should be done only if and when it helps you achieve your business goals.
2. Explicitly define what your current culture looks like
Once you know the ideal culture you want, it’s important to identify what currently exists. What’s working well about your culture that you want to preserve or do more of? What’s not working at all that you need to eliminate? What doesn’t yet exist that you need to create? And the one question that many leaders may want to avoid: What is it about your culture that while it may not be ideal, you need to accept? Once you know the answers to these questions, then it becomes more worthwhile and a much better return on your investment if you decide to engage in outside help for training or coaching to help shift the mindset and skills of your leaders and staff.
3. Change what you pay attention to
Now that you know what it is about your culture that’s working for you or against you, you have a much better idea of what to pay attention to. If you want to develop a customer-centric culture, then what you communicate, ask questions about, recognize and reward needs to be in line with this. If you’re the CEO or a senior leader, what you pay attention to drives what your people pay attention to. Do not underestimate this.
4. Be transparent about changing expectations
Do not assume people will automatically know what you want. Even under normal work circumstances, the majority of performance issues are a result of unclear, poorly communicated expectations. Particularly when you are trying to shift certain behaviours and ways of thinking, you need to be articulating and reinforcing your expectations and any changes you envision.
5. Give direct feedback to reinforce and redirect behaviours.
Behaviour change is hard. Really hard. Harder than almost anyone expects. I think I’ve made my point. One of the more challenging behaviours for leaders to adopt is to give direct and frequent feedback, yet culture change cannot succeed without it. We do not change without feedback because we constantly over or underestimate what’s required, and how aware and competent we are. Your people (leaders included) will have a hard time letting go of behaviours that have made them successful up to this point. So if you’re trying to empower your front line employees, you’ll need to talk to the heroic manager that continues to jump in to solve problems, however well-meaning he/she may be. Recognize your people for the desired behaviours, and redirect them when they are holding on to behaviours that no longer serve you.
These five recommendations are simple, but not necessarily easy. That being said, if your organization is serious about having a culture with engaged and empowered employees that deliver excellence every day, then this is the most important work you will do. Imagine your ideal culture, figure out how to get there, pay attention to the desired behaviours, and start having new kinds of conversations about expectations and feedback. These are all free of charge - provided you’re committed to the time and energy it will take to accomplish. Then again, isn’t a culture of excellence and a 20-30% differential to your performance worth it?
To take the next step in developing a Culture of Excellence in your organization, download our free eBook:
Senior Consultant, Organizational Culture and Leadership