Organisational culture is crafted out of accepted repeated behaviour
The day-to-day behaviour that is regularly accepted forms the basis of our cultural immune system, leading to a thriving workplace or producing a toxic one.
A healthy learning culture requires a champion
The organisational culture sets the tone for everything that happens in the workplace. Our behaviour is coloured by the culture from the types of hires made, to how customers are treaded on a daily basis. Simple mistakes can set an organisation back months if they are not managed effectively. However, when we are proactive we have the opportunity to set our organisation apart by crafting a learning culture. A culture champion ensures that bad habits don’t become permanent.
Organisational culture is not only built on our behaviour, but our reaction to that behaviour.
The recent debacle with United Airlines dragging a passenger off a flight speaks to the power of culture. The behaviour of the staff, and the reaction of the leaders, speaks volumes about what is acceptable in their culture. It is also a reminder to regularly conduct a full audit of rules and habitual behaviours. Then look at how those rules impact employees and customers in real terms.
The organisational culture is a result of the everyday reality of what happens at work. Culture is not a result of your mission statement (no matter how well worded), your balance sheets (red or black), or even the rules in your employee handbook. Cultures left to build themselves tend to end up a collection of misaligned habits. Crafting a culture is a process of awareness and actions, not a single event.
Tips to create a strong organisational culture:
1. Reconnect to your purpose and values
In the beginning culture is easier, but as soon as the organisation gets into double digits it requires guidance. Reconnecting to your purpose (your why), who (who do you serve?) and how (values -guiding heuristics) becomes essential as the business grows. When we lose touch with these guiding elements it becomes easier for the organisational culture to become toxic.
2. Create a common language
To succeed the organisation must speak the same language, and be on the same page about your values. This common language needs to be understood from the CEO down to the mail room. Values and the way we do business is not about remembering a definition but the stories we tell about what they mean. Knowledge and behaviour stories make your culture tangible.
3. Walk your talk
Your culture is shaped by how our leaders act. Each leader needs to be an example of the organisation’s values in action. It is not about being able to recite the values or mission statement by heart, it is about demonstrating what the organisation stands for. Integrity (what you do when nobody is watching) and transparency matter as we repeat the behaviours we most of ten see and experience.
4. Develop culture champions
Every company has employees who live, eat and breathe the culture. These employees can be a very valuable asset, if we support and develop them. Once you identify who your champions are are, ask them what they like about the culture, what could be improved and why the culture matters to them. This feedback helps us determine where we need to tweak the culture. The role of culture champion doesn’t reduce over time, in fact as the organisation grows it become part of your competitive advantage. This is because we remember those who are positive, and knowledgeable about the brand they represent. Augment your corporate culture by hiring diverse people offering different perspectives. Clones embed a single way of thinking. Different perspectives help identify your strengths and weaknesses, and to fill in the gaps.
5. Risk over-communication (Two way)
Communication your values continuously and explicitly, internally and externally. Each person must understand the culture and why it’s important to preserve it. Awareness of what is happening and communication are essential when your culture isn’t performing. Being open to feedback helps identify challenges early on, before they become habits. Crafting culture requires trust, a willingness to talk to each other, and a willingness to listen to our people. It sounds simple, but it’s easier said than done. People need to be able to share their ideas and speak openly without fear of repercussion.
6. Make it fun
A little fun goes a long way to help smooth the rough edges. Having a little fun also allows the free flow of ideas and makes it easier to break poor habits. Fun can stimulate creativity and help break down barriers between people. Find ways to engage employees in out-of-context activities that feel less like work. Give them the freedom to show up in a different way, relax and have fun.
7. Encourage humanity in the workplace
Treating our employees well is essential to maintaining a positive organisational culture. If you have a high turnover rate it becomes harder to craft a sustainable culture and deliver effectively. It can be extremely valuable to spend time screening for character rather than just skill. It is easier to learn skills than to cultivate a good attitude and character. Impressive skills and a bad attitude is a recipe for culture sabotage. When you do find the right people, engage them and treat them right. How we treat them is how they will treat our other employees and customers.
Organisational culture is not something we can set up once and expect it to stay set forever. Culture requires curatorship, to be nurtured and the freedom to evolve. When we are too prescriptive we risk smothering it. Culture is a living thing that expands and contracts, and that’s okay so long as it has a consistent core.