What Is Corporate Culture?
We define workplace culture as how things truly get done in an organization. It can be measured by understanding the way people think, behave, and work. This includes the known and unspoken values and assumptions that drive key business practices and behaviors. But it is not enough to define, you must live your desired workplace culture.
Culture’s Impact on a Company’s Success
A healthy, high performing, and aligned corporate culture is an emotional energizer and makes talent and business strategy execution easier; an unhealthy and misaligned culture is a drag on performance. Some strong cultures help companies perform (i.e., Southwest Airlines) and some strong cultures hurt performance (i.e., The Department of Veterans Affairs).
- One recent Harvard Business School research report described how an effective culture can account for up to half of the differential in performance between organizations in the same business.
- Our organizational alignment research shows that cultural factors account for 40% of the difference between high and low performing companies in terms of revenue growth, profitability, customer retention, and employee engagement.
We know one thing for sure—as a leader, if you do not understand, shape, and align your culture with your strategy, you will not perform at your peak.
Workplace Cultures Evolve
Company cultures, regardless of their strength, progress and change over time. How leaders define and shape their corporate culture has become a critical variable in defining the success and failure of their people and business strategies. The best leaders understand how culture can be used to leverage success.
But they also understand that it takes patience to change a culture. Do not expect dramatic cultural changes overnight.
How to Evolve Toward and Live Your Desired Workplace Culture
To create a healthy, high performing, and aligned culture, begin by asking the following questions:
- Organizational Health
Do employees trust their leaders, peers, and the organization? Refer friends and family for employment? Plan to stay for the next 12 months?
- High Performance
Do employees have clear performance standards? Know how they are performing? Have enough motivation, desire, and engagement to perform at their peak?
- Aligned Culture
What few behavior changes would have the greatest impact on meeting strategic and operational imperatives? What can senior leaders do differently to model and reinforce those critical behaviors? Who should you enlist as informal influential leaders?
Then follow these tips on how to do it right:
- Do Not Try for Drastic Shifts
Work with and within your current culture as much as possible. Assess your current culture, identify its major traits, and determine which traits will help or hinder your path toward the desired culture. Then identify areas that, if modified slightly, would make the greatest difference.
- Start with Changes to Key Behaviors
Simply communicating the desired behaviors will not bring results. Culture is more a matter of doing than saying. Neuroscientists believe, in general, that we act our way into believing rather than thinking our way into acting. Change behaviors first; mind-sets will follow.
- Focus on the Critical Few
Rather than attempt to change how all work gets done, focus on the critical few behaviors that, if modified, would make the greatest difference in organizational health, performance, and strategy execution.
- Rely on Influencers
Identify and actively involve employees who can model the way, spread the message most effectively, and speak truth to leadership. Influencers are the ones who can sway behavior because they are the examples others follow.
- Ensure Leadership Buy In
Senior leaders throughout the organization need to commit to and champion the desired behaviors. A disconnect between what they say and what they do will quickly undermine the whole process.
- Paint a Clear Vision of Success
Be clear about how the changed behaviors will support the company’s people and business objectives. Employees need to understand how what they do will contribute to the improved culture and why it matters.
- Showcase the Impact as Soon as Possible
Demonstrate, perhaps through a pilot program, how cultural efforts benefit the people and the business. Success stories enhance motivation and sustain the momentum of cultural change.
- Actively Involve Those Affected by Change
While change communication is essential to keep people informed, actively involving those most affected by culture change in every step of the process is the key to lasting and effective change. At a minimum, key stakeholders should be empowered to implement changes in a way that makes sense for their teams.
- Align Structures, Systems, and Processes
Ensure that organizational structures, systems, and processes fully align with and support the desired behavior changes. For example, if you are looking to increase collaboration, make sure that teamwork is recognized and rewarded over individual effort.
- Continue the Work
The highest performing organizations actively track, manage, tend, and update their cultural efforts. Remember, culture is an ongoing process.
The Bottom Line
Culture is not an abstract idea. It is a living organism that accounts for 40% of the difference between high and low performing companies and teams. Is your culture helping or hindering people and business performance? To learn more about how to live your desired workplace culture, download 3 Research-Backed Levels of Culture to Get Right