Every company likes to believe that they have a unique culture (as someone once described it “the way we do things around here when no one is looking”). Indeed, whether a company invests a lot of time on culture or none at all, they’re right, their culture is unique.
Take these 5 steps to ensure that your corporate culture supports your goals and does not evolve by accident:
- Step 1 – Define it. This seems obvious, right? Unless you are explicit about what “innovation that matters” means, people will interpret it differently. Does the innovation matter to my team? Or my city? What about the world? In order for the culture to be something that unites a company, it must be clearly defined.
- Step 2 – Communicate it. Building a culture in a vacuum isn’t going to achieve the desired results. After you define the culture, run it by a few people in the company and even some outside the company. Does it sound like “apple pie and motherhood” or is it specific enough to your company to help distinguish your organization from others? After it passes those tests, publish and talk about it often. (When employees complain that you’re talking about culture too much, you’re almost there… keep going!)
- Step 3 – Model it. If your culture includes something like “respect for people” but people berate others in public, it soon becomes clear what you really think about employees. Moreover, it makes people question the other culture elements you communicated in Step 2. For example, if “they” don’t respect people, maybe “they” don’t care about profitability either.
- Step 4 – Nurture it. Recognize, acknowledge and affirm the cultural norms you want people to emulate. These visible signals demonstrate that you are committed to the cultural elements. Write people short notes acknowledging how you saw them live out the culture. Or find ways to publicly affirm the behavior you (or others) observed.
- Step 5 – Police it. This step is the opposite of Step 4. If (when) you observe others trampling on your culture you must take swift steps to re-calibrate behavior. Either you must change the behavior of people or you must change people. Failing to act is tacitly supporting a culture different from the one you want at your organization.
In my experience, most companies use a 3-step method when it comes to culture – (1) define, (2) communicate, and (3) forget. The entire concept of a corporate culture becomes another good idea drowned on the rocks of poor and uncommitted execution. As a result, culture evolves on its own. Sometimes companies get lucky and the culture propels them to lofty heights. More often, the culture brings out the worst in people and drags performance down.
The pivot point is to be deliberate about creating and nurturing your culture. Otherwise, your corporate culture slips through neglect into an accidental one defined by “the way we do things around here when no one is looking!”
How well does your company do in “walking the walk” as it relates to their stated cultural norms?