5 Ways to Build Your Company’s Culture4 November 2019
Yes, a strong culture is a highly valued quality by most organisations, but most people don’t understand it. Culture is hard to define, let alone knowing how to achieve it.
I often hear, “this company has a great culture,” or “that company has a toxic culture,” as if it’s binary, i.e., you either have it or you don’t. These statements make culture seem elusive and difficult to quantify, being of no help to managers who wish to improve it.
Culture is an intangible quality, something subjective, which (granted) makes it difficult to analyse. It’s something sensed rather than directly observed and is the result of a combination of factors that contribute to its complexity. But this shouldn’t deter managers in trying to improve the culture within their organisations.
Here are five areas which influence organisational culture and what you can do to improve them:
1. Underlying values & beliefs
Our underlying values and belief are unconsciously held deep down within us, and we may not even recognise them. That’s why people can say they agree on something, yet their actions disprove it. It may look dishonest, and sometimes they are, but often they don’t see it.
I once worked with a manager who said he believed in working safely, but always held back spending the money required to make his workplace safe. His actions valued money, not safety. When I confronted him on this, he was shocked and offended; but to his credit, he acknowledged the contradiction. I told him if he didn’t truly believe in safety, that’s okay, but he would need to work elsewhere. And if he did, he would need to improve. The conversation allowed him to reflect and make his actions more congruent with his beliefs.
If people don’t deeply believe in the core values of their organisation, they’ll have a hard time ‘living’ them. If you don’t protect your core values by hiring and firing around them, it’s a sign of weakness. It says to all, ‘we don’t stand for anything.’
It’s hard to build a strong culture without a clear vision of where the organisation is going and how it plans to get there. A great vision describes what the orgnaisation is trying to achieve (its goal), why it exists (its purpose) and how it will win (its strategic plan). It not only inspires people, but it also infuses them with confidence that the vision will materialise.
Often, a vision exists, but it’s not articulated or shared by all within the organisation. By agreeing the vision, documenting it in simple language, and promoting it often throughout the organisation, management creates powerful alignment and culture strengthens as a result.
Policies are the ‘rules of the game,’ helping guide the organisation towards its goal. They also include things like procedures and processes which help staff perform tasks efficiently and effectively.
When policy is wise and written from experience, it’s invaluable. However, stupid, impractical or unnecessarily complex policy can destroy culture and organisations entirely. It’s a ‘double-edged sword.’
So, carefully examine all your policies, processes and procedures to clean-out those who aren’t proven to increase productivity. They cause unneeded bureaucracy, which like a python on its prey, slowly strangles your company’s culture to death.
A key tenant of leadership is to do what you say and ‘walk the talk’ to earn people’s respect. Without this, a leader has nothing.
You could have everything in place to build a strong culture, but if the leadership team and management don’t lead by example, it’s pointless.
Management must have the courage to call out people who are destroying the company culture and weed out the ‘bad apples.’ Without this backbone, no one will take the orgnaisation seriously, and your company’s culture will be a joke.
5. Physical environment & incentives
And finally, here’s where the beer and ping-pong tables come in! No seriously, we’ve all heard jokes about organisations that try to improve culture this way.
The problem arises when management thinks they can do these things INSTEAD of doing the hard work outlined above. Otherwise, staff will happily consume these benefits at the organisation’s expense while ridiculing management for their lame attempt to improve culture. It’s a double-whammy of increased costs and fueling contempt for management – making a bad situation worse.
When all the foundations of culture are in place, improving staff amenities and providing incentives are great ways to acknowledge the positive contribution of all people within your company. They are a reward for maintaining an existing strong culture, rather than a panacea.
So, look at the picture above – are they enjoying the fruits of a truly strong company culture? Or are they taking advantage of their managements’ band-aid solution to poor culture?
Only they will know.