Why does your company do what it does?
If you’ve thoughtfully identified this motive, you have probably embedded it in statements of your business mission, vision, and values.
These documents are akin to the ten commandments – guidelines that suggest how to act in the course of delivering your products or services. They are foundational to any corporate culture.
The ethos behind your operation influences whom you will hire and how you will interact with them. The skills and experiences that each employee brings to the table will pay into the culture bank, adding to the initial currency that you deposited there.
Choosing people who are on board with your rationale and mission compounds that investment. Of course, some individuals will be more or less closely aligned with the perspective of your company’s leadership.
There is a right way and a wrong way to introduce cultural priorities. Decreeing a shared motivation from the top down does not generate the will to be motivated. However, asking peers to join peers in acting from a stated set of values allows employees to freely accept external standards.
If you’re on a mission to bring everyone in your organization onto the same page to effect change, you need delegates for your message.
Managers, CEOs, and human resources personnel, then, must reach out to the rank and file to find the individuals who “get” their cultural goals. They can talk up the benefits and demonstrate how to start walking the talk.
Whether you’re launching a new business or a campaign to bring your existing staff closer together, these champions of your ideas are the ones who will help give them life.
Your ‘Message’ comes first
Revolutions don’t occur overnight. Building culture is a complex, messy process, but it can be fun and provide some immediate gratification along the way. Which elements of culture are you going to ask your people to embrace? It’s time to set priorities.
I always counsel business leaders to tackle their weakest cultural links first. Working on areas that have potential for the greatest improvement will show people just how much can be accomplished by being mindful about culture.
For instance, the simple act of informing every person in your company about who is responsible for which tasks increases transparency and improves overall performance. Instead of wondering whom to approach to sign off on a policy or solve a problem, employees can go straight to the source, saving time and money.
This type of information sharing can cut down on hassles for vendors and clients, improving customer relations and brand identity.
So, before seeking out champions, define your message by setting cultural goals and laying them out in order of urgency or importance.
In my research into which elements make the best corporations great at what they do, I found seven main cultural markers. Which of these could use the most attention in your company?
- Instituting transparent communication and information-sharing practices
- Preferring positive to negative problem-solving methods
- Performing regular measurement and analysis of outcomes data
- Using acknowledgement systems to highlight employee achievement
- Labeling and leveraging unique aspects of the company that form its identity
- Listening and responding to staff and client concerns
- Using mistakes to improve procedures
Your ‘Champions’ come next
Let’s stick with the transparency issue to talk about how to use culture to achieve excellence in these critical areas—and how these efforts fortify workplace culture itself.
The nature of this relationship has all sorts of trickle-down benefits for employees and a company’s bottom line. It will be your job to articulate these results as the ultimate goals for your staff.
Maybe your company has suffered high rates of customer dissatisfaction over lag time between orders and shipments, resulting in many order cancellations.
Your frontline staff bear the brunt of angry calls and product returns. While unpleasant, these outcomes have no other immediate negative effects on the employees themselves. They still have jobs and paychecks.
Now, suppose these staff members are given hard data on how much money the company loses every time an order falls through. The losses may be compounded when important accounts turn to other providers. The company might have to make up for the revenue drop with layoffs.
Employees can now see a direct line between a failure to expedite orders and either the loss of their position or the need to work harder with less staff support.
Your idea to head off this crisis is to share the company’s profit and loss information with every team member. You call together department heads to propose this strategy.
Predictably, you get blowback from those who either consider those numbers privileged or those who would rather not know the extent or root of the problem.
But amid the dissent, you see some people nodding and agreeing with your solution. You hear them telling colleagues about it in the break room, and you take note of their enthusiasm. These are the people you are looking for in your cultural quest. These are your champions.
You might not have the chance to bump into champions for your cause in person. If you’re still in the what-if stage, you can gauge staff sentiment for greater transparency or any other cog in the cultural wheel through surveys, targeted focus groups, or simply bringing up the topic over lunch or in the elevator.
When you get an interested response, follow up with that person. Discuss what can be gained by implementing a better communication platform or forward-focused project management system.
As converts join your culture brigade, hold brainstorming sessions to find ways to reach every member of your staff.
Passion for the means and the goals is what will sell your message to the undecided. These uninitiated people may include your boss. Make sure to bring willing leaders on board, to influence their peers.
Change is always a hard sell. But to respond to market shifts and personnel shake-ups, a company’s culture must be dynamic, not static.
Armed with evidence of what your company needs and what greater transparency or other changes can achieve, your champions will win over your team, one member at a time. If you really believe in the merits of great culture, they will too.
About the author
This article has been written exclusively for ByteStart by Chris Dyer, author of The Power of Company Culture: How any business can build a culture that improves productivity, performance and profits, which is out now published by Kogan Page, priced £19.99.
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