If you are looking to establish or push the reset button on a culture inside your organization, start with these three facts.
#1 What is Organizational Culture?
Culture has been historically hard to measure—and thus universally accepted—in a company because it involves interactions among human beings.
Humans are complex and their behaviors often difficult to predict.
However, better analytics—particularly in employee motivation and engagement—are not only shedding light what culture is, but also how it can become a performance differentiator for a business. While we might not be able to measure culture with a number, we can assign solid metrics to the human behaviors that lead to it.
So then, a wonderful defintion of this abstract idea of culture is simply:
The collective behaviors inside a company.
I believe this definition encompasses all the ingredients—values, ethics, norms, expectations, the unwritten vibe—that make up a culture.
Take home message for #1: If you are looking to establish a culture, look first to the collective behaviors you want to exist inside your organization.
#2 What is the relationship between Culture and Leadership?
Part of the reason that culture is so hard to define is that each individual leader wants to put his or her stamp on it, and rightfully so.
Daniel Goleman described six styles of leaders and noted that from each style flows a distinct, defining culture.
So for argument’s sake, let’s do the math here. If there are six types of leaders who create six types of culture, which one is the best?
I believe that to be the wrong question.
A leader brought in to turn around a struggling business will have a different agenda than a leader asked to carry the torch of a successful company. I think we all know that Amazon’s culture is different than In and Out Burger’s.
Because organizational culture equals the collective behavior of an organization, most leaders can determine the behaviors he/she wants on the inside.
The key point here is not what behaviors are best, but that strong leadership is necessary to build and sustain them.
Strong, active leadership is proactive and takes action to drive collective behavior.
Weak, passive leadership tends to be reactionary and thus collective behavior results from whatever is “the norm” in an area.
So then, if leaders do not endorse AND model the type of cultue they want, they should not be surprised when their culture produces internal competition, confusion, and no tangible benefits.
Take home message for #2: Strong leadership drives culture; weak leadership reacts to it.
#3 How can Leaders establish the Culture of their organization?
If asking “what is the best culture to establish?” is the wrong question, what is the right one for leaders?
The right question should be: “Is there a common framework to establish organizational culture?”
There is, and the good news is that any leader can take this basic framework and add their own unique style to build the collective behaviors needed in their company.
Here’s how to establish a culture in your organization:
- Define the purpose for your company in terms of your customer.
Why it works: By defining purpose, the entire company can rally around what neuroscientists call a social incentive, which is a fancy term for collective motivation.
How to do it: To develop a purpose statement, ask “Who is our customer?” “What do they value?” “How do we deliver that value in terms of our products or service?”
- Use employee goals to measure progress towards your company’s purpose.
Why it works: Monitoring progress, particularly positive progress, brings the distant purpose into the here and now. When employees see how their work directly connect to company purpose, you’ve created buy-in for your culture.
How to do it: Establish goals, both individual and team. Link each goal to how it impacts company purpose.
- Establish a feedback process to deliver updates on progress.
Why it works: Employee have two basic needs—professional and personal. Leaders can only meet these needs with consistent, well-thought out feedback.
How to do it: Deliver feedback in a safe environment that encourages dialogue about how the leader:employee can impact progress toward purpose.
- Develop a people plan to position leaders to postively impact collective behavior.
Why it works: Leaders equipped with self-awareness recognize and appreciate team diversity. This perspective allows them to encourage the use of individual strengths while maintaining a sense of direction and accountability.
How to do it: Train leaders to seek, see, and savor the different perspectives in your company. It is the most valuable leadership skill out there.
Take home message for #3: Collective behavior—and thus the culture—can be established by implementing this basic framework.
Culture happens in every company. Humans are social creatures who operate better under group norms, so they will seek and gravitate to what “normal” behaviors are in a company.
That leaves a leader with two choices: (1) Establish culture, or (2) Let others establish it for you. Either way, it is going to happen.
Why not make it a performance differentiator in your company?