Can your Culture Navigate Challenging Business Conditions?

Stressed business man frustrated trying to figure out his corporate cultureHave you ever had one of those days when running your organization seems to be too much? Never mind the day-to-day stuff, that’s always there. Now it’s about disruption and changing business models. It’s about keeping up with technology and a new digital generation in the workplace. It’s about customers whose expectations are rising and changing faster than ever before.

The undertow of culture

Your organization’s culture can be like the current of a river, sweeping your vision, goals and objectives forward. Or, it can be like a boat anchor, holding your people back and making them swim against the current. I’ve been talking to leaders over the past few weeks and all of them have commented on how important their culture is to their success especially during these challenging times. Here are some ideas from these conversations to help you manage your culture for success.

Fuel for thought idea #1 – know your culture

Many of the leaders I spoke to say being crystal clear about what the culture needs to be is essential. However they also remind us that it is dangerous to assume you know what your culture is.

Do you have a clear-cut view of the culture in each functional area of your organization?

Could the culture landscape be different in the various locations where your employees work?

Are you certain your culture isn’t shifting as one goes through the various levels in your organization?

Fuel for thought idea #2 – demonstrate your culture

One leader described his culture as being very family oriented.  He told me, “We care about our employees and when our main customer challenges our prices we do everything we can to find other efficiencies or ways of doing business rather than impact the earnings of our employees.” When you walk through their office there are pictures of their employees all over the walls. Employees at Christmas parties, employees at company picnics, employees receiving service awards or retirement presents. Even the framed chart that depicts the growth of the company isn’t about revenue, profit or share price.  It’s about the number of employees.

Fuel for thought idea #3 – reinforce your culture

Dave Caputo from Sandvine told me about the Sandvine Way.  It’s the term they use about how they work together. Every month he holds a meeting with new employees. And he’s been doing this every month for many years. Employees who have a birthday that month or a work anniversary are also invited. He goes through the Sandvine Way with the group and answers their questions about how the organization does business. This is supported quarterly by all hands meetings where people or teams can be nominated for the amazing work they are doing. Dave uses these examples not only to recognize these employees, he uses them to educate the rest of the company and promote the behaviors that will sustain the culture he believes in. He also says that almost every initiative or a project is kicked off with a reference to the Sandvine Way.

Fuel for thought idea #4 – believe in your culture

At one of Canada’s western utility companies, the focus of their conversations are about accountability.  It’s not enough to describe the culture and the values they want to see. Their leaders are stepping up and holding themselves accountable. For some, its additional leadership development. For all, it’s about not condoning behaviors that are contrary to the espoused culture. And, if coaching their employees to behave differently doesn’t work, these employees are being moved out to make room for those who are a better fit. As a result, the engagement of their employees is really picking up.

I also heard this tough love theme from a client in Eastern Canada. They have put together a prestigious President’s award program. The winners get to go south in February to celebrate. This year one of the winners was a small business unit within the company that had generated amazing results. However, the manager of that business unit wasn’t so wonderful. And upon further investigation, despite the great results, the manager was let go. The team still got to celebrate, and perhaps they celebrated a bit more than just the business results? The message sent was very clear though—this leadership team believes in the importance of culture.

If you’re faced with changing business conditions, your culture can be your greatest asset. Getting your culture right can ignite your culture and fuel your people, profits and potential. Because as World War I French General Ferdinand Foch once said, “The most powerful force on earth is the human soul on fire.”

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