Monday April 13, 2015
The word “culture” is currently the #1 most popular word searched on Mirriam-Webster.com. Google “how to change your culture” and you’ll find a myriad of responses that say a lot of the same things.
You can define culture as a shared set of attitudes, values, goals, behaviors, beliefs, knowledge, and traditions that distinguish one group of people from another. In other words, it’s the “ways” of an organization that become the shared basis for its action.
“Culture” is a French word, from the mid-15th century. It had to do with the tilling of land. The French word came from a Latin word (cultura), which meant cultivating, gardening, tending, guarding, honoring. Then like now, building the right culture takes work. You have to make an investment of time, energy, and resources to get the right one.
You can have a culture without effort. In fact, every organization has one - either by intention or by default. But a culture by default without effort is not unlike a plot of land and what grows on it naturally. Vegetation grows on land without effort and by default. How much better to cultivate what you really want. If you want to cultivate the best culture, take these steps:
- Define “who” the organization is. Articulating and revisiting “Values” can help – if the values are not too generic. Many organizations’ values sound like the wholesome goodness everyone likes to say they are. Your values should be part of what distinguish you from your competition or the employer down the street. If yours say the same thing as everyone else’s, you aren’t distinct.
- Decide “how” you want to behave. Use group norms to help define appropriate behaviors, internally and externally. And then model that. Behaviors appropriate in one organization could be unacceptable in yours. Resist the tendency to overlook behaviors that are condoned in society, but which go against the grain with you. Be true to you and expect others to be true to that.
- Select and train managers carefully. Every person in management will either reinforce the culture you want, or morph it into one they prefer. That sounds more devious than it really is. Good managers don’t set out to deviate from what you’ve established; they’re just trying to do their best, and their best will be what is inherently natural to them. It is imperative that you hire managers who manage like you would, and then train them to do so.
- Be consistent. The best people will occasionally forget the best values and norms. Remind them. And hold yourself accountable. Remember that as the leader, whatever you do will outweigh what you say; whatever you allow will be interpreted as tacit approval; whatever you promote will set the standard. So it is important then, that when deviation happens, you address it quickly and you learn from it completely. Refocus, and encourage everyone to get back to being who you all want to be.
- Hire for fit. Two very different companies in the same industry. Beta Ventures - a fast-growing, progressive company out to shake the world, and Stable Enterprises - a mature company that is a model corporate citizen with impeccable PR. Two very different Controllers with the same education and experience. One is methodical and deliberate, focused on the here and now, and the other is built for speed, exhilarated by growth, and focused on the future. If both companies hire for fit, everyone is happy. If they hire for education and experience and get this backwards, Beta Ventures will think they hired an anti-sales department and Stable Enterprises will think they’ve hired a maverick. Moral of the story –hire for fit. Hire people who like work to be like you want it to be.
- Confront those whose behaviors don’t fit. Leaders sometimes overlook the producer who behaves in ways that are out of step with the established norms. When a leader allows that to continue, it gets interpreted as weakness, cluelessness, or acquiescence. And it morphs the culture into what people think you want, based on what you allow. Don’t let that happen. Behaviors will ultimately outweigh results. Don’t wait for that. Address issues quickly and directly.
- Part ways. In my example of two companies and two Controllers above, when the wrong Controller ends up working at Stable Enterprises, she will think she is stuck in the most tedious, bean counter job around. If the wrong Controller ends up working at Beta Ventures, he will think he has landed in chaos. When you have the wrong fit, no one is happy. It’s easier to fire someone over a performance issue than to part ways with the obvious misfit between your company and a good person who doesn't fit. Though performance may not be the issue, when the person doesn't fit, it will never work. There are ways to part ways without robbing someone of his or her dignity and respect.
Organizational culture isn’t something that changes very quickly without a whole lot of intentionality. Culture tends to pass from one generation to the next because it becomes “owned” and reinforced by the whole. So even though people in a particular organization may come and go, culture lives on. If you do it right, that’s a really good thing.
At Open Door HR Solutions, we honestly believe that the right team, united around a compelling vision, can change the world. We help organizations create vision, culture, and an enviable employment brand. And we help them find and keep the right team members, part ways with the wrong ones, and get everyone on the team focused on the compelling vision so that your team can change the world.
Mark Weaver, SPHR, SHRM-SCP, QES