What Does it Take to Improve Your Culture?
The culture of a company, organisation or team is the make or break between growth and decline, retention and turnover, and success and failure. Too often we hear comments such as “toxic culture”, “team unrest”, “trouble in the boardroom” and “disorder in the trenches” that disrupt team cohesion, productivity and performance. If you are facing a storm in a teacup, what steps can you take to re-right the ship and ensure that your culture breeds success?
“Culture eats strategy for breakfast”.
What is Culture?
First of all, let’s take a look at what culture is. Culture is our:
- Shared behaviours and the way we treat each other;
- Voices and our actions;
- Products and services;
- Capacity to learn and transmit knowledge to succeeding generations;
- Customers and consumers;
- Way of acting and interacting with others;
- Combined way of life;
- Attitudes, beliefs and philosophies; and
- Community and ourselves.
What we do as a leader is ultimately more important than what we say when it comes to culture. In essence, culture is the personality and DNA of the company, organisation or team.
There are, in general, four types of organisational or team culture:
- We do things 1st – Our focus is making breakthroughs and creating the future through adhocracy.
- We do things fast – We love to compete and want to be the fastest to go to market with a short-term performance focus.
- We do things right – Our culture is to make incremental checks, do our homework and control the process through a hierarchical approach.
- We do things together – We collaborate and are focused on long-term development in a tribe type environment
“The most important thing about culture is that it is the only sustainable difference for any organisation. Anyone can copy a company’s strategy, but nobody can copy their culture.”
The Change Process
It is important to understand your current culture and what it will look like in the future is the first part of the process to support successful change. Once you understand what the future looks like, from a culture point-of-view, you then need to utilise your collaboration skills to engage your team to commence the implementation phase and begin establishing the cultural behaviours. Finally, you need to coach and mange your team so that it is embedded in the way things are done in your organisation or team.
UNDERSTAND what you want to look like and establish the expectations that are required to get there:
- Complete a cultural audit by evaluating your current culture and performance.
- Clearly define your initial vision
- Develop a new set of expectations by clarifying your values and behaviours
COLLABORATE through teamwork and align your team so a common vision can be achieved.
- Identify and clearly articulate your strategic priorities
- Bring your team together and engage them in developing and defining your team goals
- Focus on your results and build accountability through clarifying and tracking key measures
COACH and manage your team to ensure that culture is cohesively developed and ingrained.
- Build a management system that incorporates the cultural drivers, priorities and goals
- Guide, manage and communicate your new habits and routines
- Celebrate the small wins and build team motivation throughout the process
“A culture of discipline is a principle of business, it is a principle of greatness.”
Requirements for Change
Changing an organisational or team culture is one of the biggest challenges a leader will face. This is due to a culture comprising an interlocking set of attitudes, processes, roles, goals, values, attitudes, communication and assumptions. It is unique for every organisation and team, and therefore every change requires a unique approach. A leader will need to be prepared to disrupt the organisation or teams deepest values, beliefs and what it holds closest to its heart.
Culture is deeply embedded into every layer of an organisation and requires the leader to question everything to fully understand what aspects are absolutely crucial to extract or mould for a better future. It is constantly evolving over time, although the culture is deeply linked to its history and development.
Lets take a look at the most important elements to consider when preparing for change:
- LISTEN to employees, by giving them a voice
- COMMUNICATE through 2-way communication and feedback channels
- LEAD by example by seeking, speaking and acting with truth
- FEEDBACK on a regular basis to and from employees
- COLLABORATE openly rather than in isolation, through encouraging sharing and healthy debates
- TRANSPARENCY by leveraging tools to stay on the same page
- APPRECIATION with a sustainable reward and recognition program
- CHALLENGE and encourage employees to take risks
- TEAM approach by creating a supportive environment that cultivates strong co-worker relationships
- CARE by showing that people matter
- ENJOYMENT in a light-hearted and fun environment
- PURPOSE with passion
- COMMON language, values and standards
- PERSISTANCE and consistency in your approach
- FLEXIBILITY by adapting and evolving throughout the process
- WORK-LIFE integration and/or balance
- EMPOWER employees by providing a sense of freedom and ownership, as well as embracing and inspiring employee autonomy
- BOUNDARIES that have clearly defined roles, responsibilities and accountabilities
- LEARNING environment through continuous training and development
- RECOGNISE and solve, both individual and organisation, problems and issues
CASE STUDY: A few real life examples of how I have implemented some of the requirements for change:
LISTEN – We implemented a “pebble in my shoe” segment during our monthly team meeting, which allowed people to openly express things that were living rent-free in their mind.
COLLABORATE – In one organization, we established a 3hour period on Wednesday afternoons for employees to work on creative team projects that were focussed on innovation .
APPRECIATION – Working in hospitality, we had a company-wide manager meeting just before lunch every day, where we recognised at least one employee or team achievement.
ENJOYMENT – Every month we had a staff party, which had a different theme, where each team worked together to create a skit, performance or show.
CARE – At a recent coaching course, the attending coaches wrote a handwritten thank you card that was individualized for every presenter.
PURPOSE – To bring out the passion from our employees we changed our values to philosophies and asked the employees to develop the meaning of each philosophy.
WORK-LIFE – I find I am most effective when I exercise before starting work and then go for a ride or run during lunch time as it provides clarity and reflection to the projects I am working on. I have encouraged staff to do the same.
The cultural change process will test your full range of leadership skills. You cannot afford to take your attention away from the change process as a drop in momentum can have a negative effect on the cultural change. If you aren’t in the driver’s seat, you have no control over the final destination.
Tune in to next week’s article, which will discuss the leadership attributes of successful change, what a positive workplace looks like and developing a High Performance culture.
“Culture does not change because we desire to change it. Culture changes when the organisation is transformed; the culture reflects the realities of people working together every day.”
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