With you or without you, an organizational culture will evolve. Wouldn’t you as leader want to have an influence over what emerges as the company’s behavioral norms and practices? A company’s culture represents the organization’s “way of life”… the behaviors and values that employees accept, often without thinking about them, and that, by imitation or communication, infuse the entire workforce.
Successful leaders are very thoughtful and very intentional about how and in what direction they shape their high performing corporate culture. Create a culture that works and you will have engaged employees and high performance; create an environment and tone that does not work and you are unlikely to achieve your business goals. The bottom line – your job as a leader is to set the environment that gets everyone pulling in sync and in the same direction.
Here are some critical considerations as you go about the process of shaping a corporate culture that is aligned with your business strategy:
1. As leader, you play a critical role.
As you go, so goes the “nation.” You can set the tone for the organizational culture you desire, but make sure it authentically fits you and your personality. If you are leading an entrepreneurial startup, you probably feel better in a hoodie than in a suit with a briefcase. By the same token, a big city legal firm would not seem credible unless rather formally dressed.
However, culture goes far beyond attire. Set the example for the behaviors and values you want to encourage…structured interoffice appointments or drop-in, freewheeling discussions; strict or flexible office hours; flat or hierarchical reporting arrangements. It is mostly up to you.
2. Question what physical environment will foster the culture you seek.
The layout of office space can have a huge impact on corporate culture. Offices with doors provide privacy for thinking uninterruptedly but can also create barriers to open communication. Lack of gathering spots can inhibit collaboration and the testing out of new ideas on coworkers. Do break rooms and gym facilities encourage employees to work less or do they promote communication? This is the kind of question you should ask as you build your culture.
You can even test ideas to see what happens. Phil Libin at Evernote, a provider of note-taking and archiving technology, actually removed telephones from workers’ office desks. He reasoned that desk phones were unnecessary when cell phones and conference room phones were available; surprisingly nobody seemed to miss them. He also provided bi-monthly housecleaning for employees; this quickly earned the appreciation and support of employees’ significant others. A “take as much vacation as you want as long as your work is done” policy, however, required a bit of adjustment. Evernote’s dedicated workers were not taking much time off at all. Libin needed to add the enticement of $1,000 for those who would take a week at a time.
3. Hire for the corporate culture you want.
Every new person you hire should be screened for the culture in which they work best. Is their desired culture in alignment with yours? It better be or their tenure with you is likely to be short. Culture matters in the overall employee attraction, engagement and retention game…it matters a lot.
4. Choose your “rules” carefully.
Every organization needs some standards of behavior by which they operate and to which they hold leaders and employees accountable. Do you really intend to enforce and reward them? If so, make sure that each rule you create has a real purpose and makes sense within your high performing corporate culture and strategic vision. Establishing hard and fast regulations around time off might be acceptable in some business cultures but would not fly in the entrepreneurial culture of Silicon Valley as exemplified by Google and other successful high-tech firms.
Organizational alignment of strategy, culture and talent is the key. Think through what would be the most effective culture for your business strategy…one that feels authentic to you and that will attract, inspire and retain the employees you want both now and in the future. Align the organizational culture with your style, your business, and your ideal employee profile and you will improve organizational performance.
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