How Not to Fail at Corporate Culture

A cartoon man faces two directional signs: one toward success and the other toward failure

Our organizational alignment research shows that corporate culture accounts for 40% of the difference between high and low performing organizations.

So, if you are one of the 8 out of 10 corporate leaders who believe that a high performing culture is a prerequisite for success, you are in good company. You agree with top leaders that it is the most important issue they deal with. However, a recent Forbes survey shows that fewer than 1 in 10 leaders actually succeed in creating the high performing culture they dream of.

What’s getting in the way? Here are 4 explanations for why leaders fail:

  1. Failure to walk the talk
    Leaders may be good at talking about the company mission, setting out the values, and describing the behaviors that matter, but if they don’t translate their words into actions, their speeches will fall on deaf ears.Leaders who don’t act in a way that aligns with the cultural expectations they set for employees will lose trust and be guilty of a lack of integrity. The gulf between what they say matters and how they actually behave becomes too great a leap for even the most dedicated employees.

    Smart leaders explicitly close the gap between the current and aspirational corporate environment to ensure that it is lived by all and aligned with the business strategy.

  2. Equating company perks with corporate culture
    Sure, everybody appreciates the extras that many innovative companies provide, like free meals in a top-notch cafeteria, a company car, an on-site gym, and dry cleaning; but they only temporarily mask a weak culture. The perks may help attract employees but they don’t have the holding power in a poor culture to retain the employees you want.The true corporate culture is measured by understanding the way people actually think, behave and work.
  3. Ignoring the value of measurement
    When you are looking to build a high performance environment, you need first to know how aligned your current culture is with your corporate strategy. Is your work environment a driving force moving your strategy forward or are parts of your culture inhibiting your success? For example, we measure cultural alignment with strategy across 10 dimensions of success to identify any potential gaps.Secondly, you should understand where you are on the continuum of a weak to strong employee experience. You need to know what specific traits constitute high performance in your organization so you can build hiring profiles, career development options and performance management practices that fit.
  4. Thinking of culture change as an event rather than a process
    Many of those 9 out of 10 leaders who miss the mark in changing the way their workers work are too impatient. They expect short-term success and give up too easily. Re-shaping an organizational culture requires time and perseverance.
  • First, make sure that you have a clear, believable and implementable business strategy. Without a strategic true north that stakeholders are committed to, culture initiatives are doomed to fail.
  • Second, explicitly define the corporate environment required to best execute your strategy in the short- and long-term. This is much more than an exercise in defining corporate values and slogans. This is a leadership initiative that defines and agrees upon the way people think, work and behave vis-à-vis the strategic vision.
  • And lastly it requires a targeted action plan to close the gaps between the current and desired culture in a way that best moves the strategy forward.

If you are serious about building a high performance culture, make sure you don’t trip yourself up by making any one of these four mistakes.

To learn more about defining an aligned and high performing environment, download How to Build a Purposeful and Aligned Corporate Culture.

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