Culture is either your greatest asset or your greatest liability. Leaders today know that a strong positive culture aligned with their strategic plan delivers results. Research has shown over and over again that these companies are generating better than average financial results and higher employee engagement.
However, shifting culture is a tough exercise. You can’t just hang posters on a wall and hope that people will behave differently. And having an okay culture isn’t good enough anymore. Designing, managing and improving culture is a critical part of our everyday management duties.
The First Step
If you’ve gotten to the stage where you could be selecting the posters for the wall, then you’ve already defined the culture needed to be successful. The challenge is in actually building it. You need a Blueprint for Action. A blueprint will give you the direction you need.
If you ask your employees what you can do to create a better culture you’ll get all kinds of ideas. Many of them will be around process or policy changes. There will also be ideas around teambuilding, professional growth, or coaching. You could get a list of a hundred ideas. You and your leadership team should add to the list based on your perspectives of the organization: improving the recruiting process, aligning your reward and recognition activities, or executive coaching. Look at it from two perspectives. What are the elements in your current culture that you want to move away from such as bureaucracy or empire building? What are the values you’d like more of such as teamwork or customer service?
The list can be overwhelming until you do a prioritization exercise. What’s most critical, what’s quick and easy to do, what will give you the best return? Take a three year horizon and map out all the potential initiatives you could do to shift your culture from where it is today to where you need it to be tomorrow.
Lifting your Blueprint off the Paper
If you thought the first step was a lot of work, get ready for step two. Now is the time for action. And we all know what gets tracked gets managed. My advice is to create a dashboard that will give you regular updates on your culture initiatives. Embed key activities into your leaders’ objectives. Only by focusing on progress will you actually see change. Otherwise you’ll have just created another binder on a dusty shelf. If you’re serious about improving your culture, reviewing it on a regular basis is just as important as reviewing your financials. Culture is a key driver of financial success, why wouldn’t you track it with the same dedication?
How will you know if your culture blueprint for action is making a difference? It’s one thing to track the implementation of the various initiatives, but are they having the expected impact? Are they truly being adopted, or are your employees just playing lip service hoping this “fad” will run its course and wilt away? This is where a culture survey can play a critical role. It’s even better if you started with one, and have a benchmark to measure against.
I had a client who wanted to address his employees request for more coaching/mentoring. He did a lot of great work to introduce a mentoring program in his company. In fact, he was quite excited about it because mentoring is near and dear to his heart. When he did his follow up culture survey (not an employee engagement survey) employees didn’t see coaching/mentoring in their culture yet. Confused? You bet he was. Then he went out and asked his employees more about their request for coaching/mentoring. His employees told him what they really wanted was more frequent feedback from their direct managers. This CEO had all the right intentions, but his mentoring initiative ended up missing the mark. He could have gone on for years thinking he was making an impact on his culture, when in fact, nothing was changing. Closing the feedback loop is an essential piece of the process.
It’s a journey
These three steps are critical to creating a successful shift in your culture. Feel free to contact me if you’d like more information about blueprints and dashboards. By building a blueprint, actively measuring progress and periodically sampling your culture status you will create the needed change. It’s not easy and it’s not quick. Improving culture is a journey, done right it’s a journey with great rewards.