12 Corporate Culture Strategies
Posted on April 7, 2018 by Jonathan Mills
Many organizations struggle with Corporate Culture because it tends to be a nebulous subject. It is much easier to make decisions about things that are black and white, especially when it comes to making strategic choices; but Corporate Culture is critical to success! If you don’t pay attention to your human capital, then you are missing out on the huge benefits that come from having healthy employment practices – lower attrition, more referrals, higher performance, thought leadership, loyal employees and customers, etc. Even worse, you may be suffering from an unhealthy culture – high attrition, poor employment brand, low-energy, poor performance, frequent grievances, bullying, unethical behavior, etc.
Managing your Corporate Culture strategically requires an investment, but many of the practices involved are both low cost and highly effective. Here are 12 tips to help get you on the right track.
1. Control what you can, impact what you can’t.
Corporate Culture is defined and driven by a great many influences, but you can only control a few of them. If you focus on the things you can change, then the things you can’t will follow suite. When all of your leaders are consistently following through on a carefully crafted set of guidelines, behaviors, and processes, the things that are hard to change (employee turnover, moral, engagement, loyalty, and referrals) start to fall into place within the overall culture.
2. Why we do what we do.
Ask yourself “why”. If your organization has a meaningful purpose, then its members will keep line-of-sight with a worthwhile mission. They will be invigorated because what they do is part of a larger cause. “Why” is a statement about your values; and if you carry it into your plans and decisions, then the character of your organization will follow. Your productivity will be fueled by powerful intrinsic motivation.
3. Count the cost before you commit.
Lip service is dangerous, so don’t commit without knowing how you will follow through. It is alright if you don’t change your culture over-night. Be systematic, taking realistic but meaningful steps that are measurable. This follow-through will fill your team with confidence in you, whereas shortsighted promises result in disillusionment. A good rule of thumb is to use SMART goals: specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound. Don’t underestimate this simple tool or the power of careful forethought.
Everything a leader does either helps, hurts, or hinders the creation of a great team culture.The Culture Engine
4. We are the narrative and the storytellers.
Your employees are part of a greater narrative, so let your team celebrate victories and learn from failure. Record and retell these stories, especially the inspiring ones. Make them part of your corporate traditions, recounting the tales that made your company what it is, indoctrinating new hires with inspiration, and rekindling discouraged employees. This will both attract and retain people who resonate with the narrative. Remember also that failure is an opportunity. Don’t live in fear, but anticipate with understanding.
5. Draw a line from today to tomorrow.
A good navigator has their eyes on the path, map, and compass. In the same way, keep our eyes on the current culture, future culture, and the tools that guide you there. If you are systematic about studying the present and describing the future, then you can draw a line from here to there. Making real changes is then a matter of faithfulness to the course and iterative reassessment. It’s an every day activity, with recurring exercises that systematically examine, refresh, and course correct.
6. Build personas!
Make an in-depth persona to help carry your values and beliefs into the day-to-day hiring, firing, and maintenance of your most important resource – your employees. Describe your future employee in detail (attitude, beliefs, skills, talents, temperaments, locality, history, etc.). You can also make a number of personas for your current employees; and seeing the difference between the present and future will help you chart a path from here to there. Remember that personas are an ideal, not reality, so be gracious about shortcomings.
Be wary of “Value Attribution“, which is our inclination to assign someone’s value based on first impressions.
7. We are all the culture.
Don’t discount a single person. Every member of your organization has valuable insights that you desperately need. Every member also has a critical influence on the culture. Paying attention and building relationships throughout the organization is how you identify benefits and policies that your employees care about, in turn creating a positive employment brand. It is also how you identify “positive energizers” and “thought leaders” to help carry the torch and execute change. Don’t discount a single team member.
8. Culture is as culture does.
New hires should always reflect the corporate values you want to uphold, because your employees are the most powerful way to shape corporate culture. These new “positive energizers” will fuel progress because of their alignment with the intended culture. Also, when you experience a crisis, your cultural strength will have a great deal to do with how values-aligned your employees are.
9. Document, distribute, and believe!
Artifacts and other media are key to creating a shared mindset, belief system, and practice. An internal system that educates and encourages your team to think and operate in a certain way can turn the negative connotation of “group think” on its head. Examples include: fliers, email signatures, shared jargon, coffee mugs, jackets, portfolios, organizational constitution, etc. But even if you start small, don’t forget the power of a single word.
10. Our message is everyone’s message!
Let your executive decisions and messages be informed by vertical and horizontal relationships, so that every exec team decision is actually the cumulative voice of the organization. Your company is a team, which means that every member has valuable insights about how to reach and maintain success.
11. Be transparent.
In as much as possible (and more than you think) be transparent with your organization’s members. Employment brand and morale are impacted by transparency, so keep your team informed about budgeting issues, new risks, and other losses. Keep confidential information to a minimum, and do not rely on the “grapevine” to keep employees informed. Relationships are built on honesty and trust so we need to treat our employees like partners.
12. Go on a Walkabout!
Open door policies are passive! It is a well-intentioned policy but obligates employees to make the first move. You’re asking your team to fight through all of the fear and social propriety (real and perceived) that make you intimidating. Instead, travel to your employees wherever they may be. Go on a “walkabout”! It will help build substantive relationships that improve corporate performance and your employment brand.
It will also impact the way you think. People tend to surround themselves with others who share or are willing to affirm their assumptions and perspectives. For organizational leaders, this means that your exec team might be feeding you just want you want to hear. It also means that you might be stuck in an intellectual rut. How are you going to discover new ideas and approaches without finding some “dissenters” to talk to? Go spend some time with employees that don’t share your assumptions or norms–you’ll both learn new things and reaffirm the values most important to you.
Corporate Culture is a challenge to navigate, but these strategies will help. If you would like to learn more or schedule some time to chat, please contact us. Corporate Culture Specialist is dedicated to understanding and executing on Corporate Culture strategically, delivering low-cost and highly effective methodology and tools for assessing and pivoting your culture. We offer targeted training and workshops, assessment, and strategic mapping for Corporate Culture.