Organizational Culture: 6 Tips for a Reset
With so much focus on culture pre-COVID, good strides were made in many companies as it related to strengthening organizational culture. And then our world was rocked. Now, as work-life settles into the new norm, culture has likely evolved. But was it by accident, or by design? And is it still aligned with where the organization is going? If not, it may be time for a reset.
The Impact of Change on Culture
If you did some work on your culture previously, whether at the organizational level or the team level, then you know that your culture is essentially a collection of behaviors regularly demonstrated by most of your team members. It includes how people do their work and how they interact. This is the traditional definition for culture and relatively observable.
Of course, culture is also captured in the less visible thoughts that are prevalent in the minds of your team members such as a focus on opportunities or alternatively, on risks. And at its core, culture is about how team members feel about the organization and each other whether it be pride and camaraderie or discontent and isolation. Where there is a change in the observable behaviors, so it follows that there is likely a change in the less visible thoughts and feelings of your team members.
Given the shift to social distancing and higher instances of remote workers, there have naturally been significant changes in how team members interact with each other. For example, in many organizations, there are more virtual interactions than in-person interactions and there is less informal dialogue happening, the style formerly found in the hallways or cafeterias of the workplace. The thoughts and feelings that follow certainly depend on a team member’s preferences but range from higher productivity and sense of accomplishment to weaker relationships and inefficiencies.
The opportunity here is to re-evaluate your culture and the elements that are key to the future success of your organization. The culture you once had may be evolving in the opposite direction. With some focus and intentionality, it doesn’t have to be that way. Instead of allowing the culture to evolve by accident, you have the opportunity to shape it by design. It may need to evolve into a new design given the new realities in our world. But you would be well-served to ensure that the new design of your culture is once again, an asset and not a liability.
If you had previously designed your culture, it may be time to dust it off, preserve what makes sense, ditch what doesn’t, and add what is needed. Or, if you prefer to start from scratch, or don’t have a design to reference from before, following are six things to consider in that design.
6 Culture Design Considerations
#1 – The Direction
Often referred to as Vision and Purpose. It answers the questions about where the organization is going and why it exists. For example, Coca-Cola aims to ‘refresh the world’ and Hulu exists to ‘to captivate and connect people with stories they love.’ These statements are ambitious, inspiring, brief, and actionable. How well does your organizational purpose meet these criteria?
#2 – The Way
These may be called values, norms, or anything else but ultimately describe a set of behaviors deemed most important in the performance of the organization, including attracting and retaining the talent needed to take you there. For example, a value of ‘simplicity’ may be lived out by listing key points on a whiteboard instead of referencing a 50-page Powerpoint presentation. A value of ‘caring’ may be lived out by helping a co-worker with a move.
#3 – Awareness
This comes down to communication and putting plans in place to ensure all team members are made aware of the vision, purpose, values, and norms and that they remain visible. These can be communicated in a meeting, via email, a newsletter, an off-site workshop, desk-top cards, signage, symbols, stickers, and more. In fact, the more the better to ensure the message gets to all team members in a way that captures their attention and keeps it!
#4 – Consistency
In addition to behaviors, this answers what else team members would have to see, hear, and feel for there to be consistency with the purpose, vision, and values. For example, if innovation is valued, one might feel the energy of positivity and empowerment, often hear the word ‘and,’ yet seldom hear the word ‘but.’ One could expect to see model shops, gadgets, and evidence of failed experiments on desks, hear them memorialized in the stories told by team members along with the lessons learned. Processes might reward, not penalize ‘fast failures’ and minimize approvals required for them. These examples demonstrate how the value of innovation could be integrated into the infrastructure, the tools, the language, the processes, and the people’s thoughts and minds. Furthermore, the desired behaviors would be modeled by the leaders. This consistency and deep level of integration builds trust and respect and nurtures the desired behaviors.
#5 – Reinforcement
This is the care and feeding necessary to keep the culture alive. It is the maintenance required to keep it running smoothly. In addition to the modeling mentioned above, it is also about rewarding and highlighting aligned behaviors, promptly addressing unacceptable behaviors, and communicating the ‘Direction’ and ‘Way’ often and everywhere.
Reward and Highlight Aligned Behaviors
As simple as it is, making an effort to reward behaviors consistent with the defined ‘Way’ accomplishes a couple of things. Not only does it encourage repeat behavior by the individual being recognized, but it also models what it looks like to live out that value for others. Such behaviors might include shutting down the line due to a safety issue or remaining calm with an irate customer.
Address Unacceptable Behaviors
If you wish to shape and nurture a culture, it is not enough for a team member to be a high performer. Alignment with the values may be even more important than an individual’s performance given the ripple effect a single individual can have on others. Ignoring, tolerating, and allowing counter-value behaviors reinforces those undesirable behaviors and may, in fact, lead to disengagement and a loss of trust from impacted stakeholders and observers. This may look like sloppy wiring in an organization that values ‘quality’ or staying in a 5-star hotel suite in an organization that values ‘stewardship.’
Communicate Everywhere and Often
In addition to making the culture visible, talking about it continuously keeps it alive. Vocalizing it sends the message that it is supported by leadership and serves as a reminder for all. Putting it on the wall but never talking about it minimizes the importance. Rather, to elevate the importance, a leader may choose to begin every meeting with a reminder of the organizational ‘Direction,’ or to align monthly company updates within the framework of the organizational purpose and values.
#6 – Measurement
In the case of culture, the old adage that ‘what gets measured gets managed’ and ‘what gets managed gets done’, does indeed apply, whether qualitative or quantitative. In this case, we may be talking about a measure of prevalence and degree of alignment which may simply be perceptions, but worthwhile and indicative insights nonetheless. If, in an anonymous survey, 80% of the employee population reports trust for leadership, trust for their leader, and trust in their team members, this is certainly an indicator that the organization is living into its value of ‘Trust.’ This last element is about evaluating periodically how well the culture is being lived out at all levels of the organization. It serves as a feedback loop for whether the previous elements are functioning as designed and having the intended effect.
The message remains the same…culture matters. It may be a strategic asset if managed and nurtured well. When done well, it will be essential in accomplishing the mission regardless of the size of the organization. And culture can change. As a leader, you have the opportunity to consciously shape that evolution and reset the culture in a way that propels the organization forward into the future, especially important since the way we work is changing. Consult with your coach to support you on that journey to designing and maintaining a strong and healthy culture. And if you are not already, become the Chief Culture Officer for your organization and see the results flow.
ABOUT THE IMAGE: “Reset” by Luca Mascaro is licensed with CC BY-SA 2.0.
Passionate about growing amazing leaders who create great places to work and lead fulfilling lives, Angela enables transformational change in individuals, teams, and businesses. As a Certified Professional Coach, she is skilled at combining sound coaching skills with proven leadership methodologies to cultivate growth and ultimately, results.