Strong Corporate Culture: A Foundation for Accelerating Performance

cartoon illustrating the difficulty of changing a strong corporate culture

A strong corporate culture may indeed be difficult to change but, if you want to boost business and people performance, it may be just what you need to do.

Corporate culture has been misconstrued recently to mean everything from being a “happy” or “fun” work environment to a great place to work. We define a strong corporate culture differently.

A Strong Corporate Culture Defined
We believe culture drives the majority of behavior at an organization. Your workplace culture symbolizes the heartbeat of your company. It represents the set of norms, values, underlying assumptions and practices that guide workforce behavior and it is unique to every company.

More simply, culture is the way business gets done on a day-to-day basis. Our organizational alignment research found that culture accounts for 40% of the difference between high and low performance in terms of revenues, profits, customers and employee engagement.

Can a Workplace Culture Be Too Strong?
The short answer is Yes!  The longer answer is it depends.  We measure culture on three levels.  For two of the three levels it is difficult to make the culture too strong. For the other level, too strong of a culture can spell disaster.

1.  Cultural Health.
Think of organizational health as the corporate values and behaviors that are consistently lived across an organization.  In general, organizations strive to be healthy, and people want to work in a healthy environment.

While it is difficult for an organization to be too healthy, a company must be healthy enough to set the stage for a strong corporate culture that drives high performance.

2.  Cultural Performance.
The next ingredient of a strong corporate culture is your performance environment.  We believe that people change when their environment changes.  We also believe it is a leader’s job to create the circumstances to consistently get the most out of their people in a way that is aligned with the organization’s core values, behaviors and strategies.

At this level of culture, it is certainly possible for the culture to be “too strong.”

In fact if you push for greater levels of performance without having commensurate levels of clarity, meaning and accountability, your performance pressure will most likely create decreased performance.  A leader applying the wrong amount of pressure in the wrong ways can render an entire organization ineffective.

Great leaders know when and where to apply performance pressure to get the most out of their people.

3.  Cultural Alignment.
The third, and often the least effectively used, cultural level is the alignment of your culture with your strategy.  The goal is to design a purposeful culture that is 100% in line with moving your business forward.

Similar to cultural health, it is difficult to make this level too strong in terms of cultural alignment.

The Four Steps to Create a Strong Corporate Culture

  1. Define the Desired Culture
    Create a common and organization-specific definition of culture, identify the current and most critical cultural beliefs needed to accomplish the goals, and establish a set of communication tools that address how to think about doing the work, not just what work needs to be completed.
  2. Assess the Current Culture
    Identify the gaps between the current and needed culture, identify cultural areas which have the greatest strategic and performance impact, and establish metrics to track progress and the success of the transformation.
  3. Create a Plan to Close the Key Culture Gaps
    Prepare people leaders to become culture ambassadors, cascade and translate strategic goals and their level of cultural alignment, address organizational health issues which may create road blocks, and create action plans to create alignment.
  4. Close the key Culture Gaps
    Identify and prepare change agents, establish accountability alignment targets, establish monthly tracking metrics for key rate of change, people, operational, customer, and financial metrics, and create recognition and rewards for key workgroups.

If you want to learn more about the different levels of a strong corporate culture, download 3 Levels of a High Performance Culture Strategy

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