6 Ways to Support Your Desired Culture

Graphic of one teammate helping another up the mountain to illustrate how to Support Your Desired Culture

Support Your Desired Culture
How do leaders support your desired culture in the wake of the recent high profile cultural derailments of companies like VW, Wells Fargo, Uber and the Veteran’s Administration?

  • Whereas Volkswagen had won plaudits for creating a low emissions vehicle with better fuel economy (a so-called “green” car that was welcomed by its loyal customers), it ruined its brand by purposefully falsifying records. Their emissions reports were a fraud and the cars were as smog-belching, if not worse, than their competitors’ on the road.  While they are trying to improve their culture through increased transparency and decentralized decision-making, CEO Matthias Mueller is finding that culture change is more difficult than expected.
  • Or take the case of Wells Fargo whereby their employees fraudulently signed up customers for unauthorized accounts (over 2 million!) in order to hit sales targets and receive bonuses. While the dust is still settling, most attribute the problems to a cutthroat corporate culture to win at all costs.

These stunning debacles ruined the reputation of these businesses for years to come and they may never fully recover.

What Happened Culturally?
Their culture went toxic.  In both cases, greed conquered ethics.  Instead of adhering to a cultural norm of “following Federal regulations” or “putting customers first,” both companies systematically cheated.  Their brands have suffered.  They have lost customers, and they will pay hefty fines and/or face criminal charges.

These are, of course, extreme examples of cultural failure.  But there are many examples of cultural erosion that are less drastic and closer to home.  Perhaps you have observed some shifting away from the culture your organization proclaims; you sense your organization is moving toward a less desirable culture that can eat away at the wellbeing of your employees and the reputation of your company.

Six Ways to Support Your Desired Culture
Here are six ways to support your desired culture to combat the kind of cultural failure that destroys employee engagement and organizational health:

1. Ruthlessly Align Culture with Strategy
Culture and strategy are inextricably entwined…one supports the other. Strategy must go through culture and people to get implemented.  Strategy (the what) should be created in the context of culture that it must be executed within and culture (the how) should be shifted to provide the greatest chances for strategic success.

For example, a strategy to grow faster by offering transaction-based services to Tier 2 and 3 level clients will not succeed if your culture is built to deliver customized and relationship-based customer experiences.  And conversely, you cannot espouse an intimate customer-centric culture if your strategy is to scale off-the-shelf solutions to the masses.

2. Prioritize and Reward Leadership Modeling
At most companies, the CEO and senior leadership sets the tone. When they model and value the desired culture, their behaviors and attitudes cascade throughout the workforce. If you want to support your desired culture, make sure your leaders and influencers set a personal example of what they expect from others in terms of how they perform and how they behave.

3. Strive for High Levels of Understanding and Commitment
To support your desired culture, the way things get done should be well understood and agreed upon by everyone from the top down. The day-to-day expectations of how work gets done should be easily and frequently articulated.  All employees should be committed to doing business according to the cultural mores of the organization.

4. Accept Diversity
To achieve the goal of an open culture where differing ideas and backgrounds are welcome, you need to actively embrace diversity. Companies that are willing to listen to and consider different opinions and varied backgrounds are all the stronger for it.  In fact McKinsey found:

  • Companies in the top quartile for diversity are more likely to have financial returns above their national industry medians.
  • Companies in the bottom quartile are statistically less likely to achieve above-average returns.
  • Be sure new ideas and differing points of view are not squelched.

5. Monitor Culture Metrics
Culture needs exposure and regular measurement to be healthy, high performing and aligned. Keep track of the behaviors that support the culture as well as those that don’t.  Be sure the needle continues to move in the right direction.

If you are undergoing culture change, establish tracking metrics in areas such as:

  • Key financial metrics: revenue, profit, expense, etc.
  • Key customer metrics: satisfaction, loyalty, growth, market share, etc.
  • Key operational metrics: throughput, quality, billable hours, etc.
  • Key people metrics: attraction, development, engagement, retention
  • Rate of change: rate of action items accomplished

6. Provide Consistent, Proportionate and Visible Recognition
Don’t forget the power of encouragement. When you see someone demonstrating a behavior that fortifies the culture you want, be sure to thank and recognize them.  You will know you are headed in the right direction when employees know they will be recognized if they produce the expected results in the desired way.

The Bottom Line
Supporting your desired culture and keeping your behavioral norms aligned with your strategy requires commitment and vigilance.  Set clear expectations for the expected results and behaviors that are consistent with cultural goals.  Then hold all employees accountable for measuring up to them.

To learn more about how to protect and support your desired culture, download How to Create a Purposeful and Aligned Culture

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