Culture exists in any organization regardless of the attention it gets from management. If culture is an intrinsic component of business, management shouldn’t have to be concerned with creating it. Right? Wrong! Organizational culture is essentially the sum total of all the behaviors within your company. Those behaviors evidence what the management and staff believe is most important. As humans, we value those things that are most important to us and act in a manner that evidences those values.
Since organizational culture is generated through our individual values and behaviors, and culture impacts our results, it’s important that we proactively understand, foster, and manage it appropriately. Organizational culture is one of the key ingredients for business success. It underpins everything we do. Even though it occurs naturally within the business you shouldn’t ignore it. If properly managed it will provide for significantly improved results.
Understanding and managing your organizational culture can be quite complex. However, this blog will provide a basic framework for you to get started. But, to truly capitalize on the value of your company culture you should work with an independent experienced facilitator to guide the process.
“What’s really important around here?”
As the leader of the organization, start by asking yourself and others throughout the organization, “What’s really important around here?” You should finalize your answers before asking others for theirs. As you ask this question don’t guide the answers by trying to explain what the question means. That just provides a subconscious perspective of your expectations. Ask the question and accept the answers, whatever they are. As you accumulate answers you’ll likely begin to see a pattern. If you don’t see a pattern, don’t worry, it just means you have a different starting point.
The answers to this question will, like it or not, reflect the organizational objectives and/or values. I know, these are already captured in your Strategic Plan and the responses may just be reiterating the plan. That’s ok, just reinforce that the response should be honest and open and that there are no “expected” responses.
These answers provide a perspective on your organizational culture because people are behaving in a manner that supports what they believe is most important. Look for the degree of alignment with your objectives and values and those stated in the company guidance. With this information work with members throughout the organization to tighten the alignment so that everyone understands the company objectives and shares the company values.
Objectives and Values
The objectives should clearly describe where the company is headed and as the leader you should be able to communicate, in detail, the connection between the vision and those objectives. Identifying the values from this exercise will be more difficult and it may require some group sessions to facilitate the final definition of organizational values.
Most companies stop once they’ve identified the values for the organization. Some will provide a written definition of the value. I would challenge you to take this a step further. Have various departments and individuals throughout the company define how each value is exhibited in their daily activities. This provides definitions, by way of examples, for the expected behaviors. Working throughout the organization have them answer questions, as they relate to the company objectives and values, such as, “How do we do what we do?”, “What do our values look like in our work environment?”, and “How do our behaviors reflect the objectives and values?” Questions like these will get the conversation flowing and generate beneficial results.
Memorialize these behavioral examples and proactively utilize them in your new employee orientation process, ongoing communication and coaching, and recognition programs. The more you reinforce the behaviors that represent your values and support your objectives the better results you’ll have in organizational performance and employee engagement.
When behaviors are identified that don’t represent the values or support the objectives coach the employee(s) accordingly. Don’t just tell them to change or reprimand the behavior. Ask them to identify the mis-alignment of the behavior with the values and objectives of the organization. Then ask them what they can change to improve the alignment and let them identify the problem and craft the solution.
Here are the basic steps to this approach.
- Engage the entire organization in answering the question, “What’s really important around here?”
- Establish alignment with company Values and Objectives.
- Identify and memorialize behaviors that support the Values and Objectives.
- Provide guidance and reinforcement for the identified behaviors.
Now you are proactively fostering and managing your company culture in a way that directly contributes to results.