Maybe you’ve been there at some point—declining production, management mishaps, plummeting morale, etc. Your company culture needs a boost. As a Human Resources leader, it’s easy to be overwhelmed by focusing on how to fix your company or how to empower your managers to fix their ailing departments.
Your CEO and other C-suite leaders may look to you for answers, demanding a strategy to turn things around quickly. When this happens, you and your team can provide a short-term Band-Aid approach or propose a more foundational question and discuss the greater cultural context in which change takes place.
In The Culture Cycle, James L Heskett claims culture “can account for 20-30% of the differential in corporate performance when compared with ‘culturally unremarkable’ competitors.” Clearly, culture is key if your managers want to turn around failing performance.
Michael Hyatt, a New York Times bestselling author, learned this lesson after taking over a failing publishing company. He discovered that “if you think about strategy (the how) too early, it will actually inhibit your vision (the what) and block you from thinking as big as you need to think.” His team had to buy-in to a big-picture vision before they could identify the best strategy for improvement. Then he had to create a winning culture to support that vision.
Vision is where culture begins. But if it ends there, your leaders and managers will remain frustrated. Vision helps determine culture, but vision—and the strategy your leaders develop to achieve it—is worthless if the culture of the team or company doesn’t support it. Vision is the tip of the arrow, the first shaping factor in creating a healthy company culture, but it’s not the sole factor.
Before they invest too much time in crafting strategy (the how), share these six elements of a healthy corporate culture from Harvard Business Review contributor, John Coleman:
A great culture starts with a great vision or mission statement. Not only should those on the upper tiers of management understand the company vision, but employees at every level. Vision statements instill purpose, and purpose inspires authentic work and provides ground-level direction for every decision. Verbalize a strong vision and you lay some sturdy groundwork for positive corporate culture.
Vision will go nowhere if it isn’t connected to the actual values of your company. When the vision connects with the core values, they can provide guidelines for the winning behaviors and mindsets necessary to achieve the goals.
If vision and values align, then it comes down to this question: what do you do consistently? This is where the rubber meets the road. For example, if your executives claim to value communication and open idea flow between departments, but don’t initiate procedures to ensure it happens, employees will soon sense the disconnect. Culture thrives on authenticity and constructive action.
Companies must either start with the right people who share the company values or hire people willing to embrace them. Coleman warns, “No company can build a coherent culture without people who either share its core values or possess the willingness and ability to embrace those values.” Likewise, a company culture that supports and develops the people in the company results in higher job satisfaction metrics and greater employee retention.
Don’t be afraid to embrace the history of the company—your story. Every company has something that makes it different, and everyone loves being a part of a unique story. Learn what sets your company’s story apart and leverage the element of narrative to build a cohesive culture.
Take stock of the physical surroundings in the company. Do coworkers sit in cubicles, rooms, or do they share open space with each other? Is the company located in a city with its own strong culture or traditions? Architecture, aesthetic design, even general geography can have positive or negative influence on the culture you want to create.
If your leaders consistently assess these cultural components and reorient accordingly, their teams will be well positioned to craft winning strategies supported by a winning culture. But a word of caution: the muscles of even the best of runners can atrophy if neglected.
Culture isn’t something your managers can set up once and forget. They can watch for these signs of an unhealthy culture:
- Only positive feedback—If all feedback is positive, your managers may need to dig deeper to get authentic answers. A culture that isn’t honest will eventually derail the best of strategies. To grow, one must prune. Make your culture a safe place for constructive criticism to avoid stagnation.
- Always a mess—An office in neglect is usually a sign of a culture in neglect. People with passion for their jobs should care for their space. When your leaders see employees behaving with indifference, that may be a sign that they have checked out on the vision.
- Strict office hierarchy—Employees should respect their bosses, but allowing ideas to flow both ways will strengthen trust, increase relevance, and encourage innovation. Open doors can result in more effective strategies by taking advantage of all input from the team.
- Issues repeated in meetings—Hearing about a problem week after week may mean that nothing has been done to address it. That’s a sign that leaders should probe deeper to find out why. The situation may need a new approach, or it may be an indicator that no one is taking ownership for problems within the company culture.
Fixing problems isn’t easy in any company. A winning vision and culture won’t just happen. It takes an intentional investment of time, energy, and willingness to listen and learn to discover how best to shape a culture that can support a winning strategy. The leaders in your company must be intentional about connecting strategy with vision, and vision with a supportive culture. Only when a team culture supports the what can people make progress on the how.
- Michael Hyatt, “Why Vision is More Important than Strategy,” Michaelhyatt.com, http://michaelhyatt.com/why-vision-is-more-important-than-strategy.html. Accessed August, 2016.
- John Coleman, “Six Components of a Great Corporate Culture,” May 6, 2013, https://hbr.org/2013/05/six-components-of-culture. Accessed December 2016.
- Julie Rains, “10 Signs of Unhealthy Company Culture,” americanexpress.com, May 23, 2011, https://www.americanexpress.com/us/small-business/openforum/articles/company-culture-2012-10-signs-of-unhealthy-company-culture/. Accessed August 2016.
- Shane Atchison“10 Signs That a Company Has a Serious Culture Problem,” Forbes.com, May 19, 2014, http://www.forbes.com/sites/forbesleadershipforum/2014/05/19/10-signs-that-a-company-has-a-serious-culture-problem/#4cf158ab2ea8. Accessed August 2016.