Culture is a simple way of saying how an organization expresses itself internally and externally. It is driven by values, whether by purpose or default. It is driven by leadership and determines how the organization responds to all things, both good and bad. As a matter of fact, there isn’t a part of an organization that isn’t influenced or affected by the type of culture that has either been developed or allowed to exist.
No organization is without culture. It will develop one way or another and it is indicative of the lowest accepted common denominator. How employees interact with leadership and one another is driven by culture. Response to conflict is as well. Customer care, no matter how much training you try to do to the contrary, will always reflect the prevalent culture. There may a few exceptions, but the overall feel will be a raging testimony of your culture. It is the tangible representation of interactions among those affiliated with your organization in any capacity.
Culture must be demonstrated by the actions of those in leadership and not relegated to a few finely framed posters strategically positioned above work spaces. It must be more than a few paragraphs in the employee handbook that is briefly mentioned during the on boarding process, never to again see the light of day. The people in your organization will only take your culture as seriously as you do.
Here are 7 essential elements, as an alliteration of the word Culture, to creating a solid culture that can be both purposeful and positive:
Consistent – There aren’t too many things that will destroy the efforts to create a quality culture than to appear to have double standards. This only underscores the absolute necessity to build your culture on the organizational values. They serve as an anchor and reference point for those difficult circumstances. People won’t always like it, but they will appreciate knowing where things stand and that it isn’t some ambiguous idea built in the moment.
Useful – It’s amazing how many organizations create cultural boundaries and definitions as a means to control and manipulate people. Your culture must be of use relative to your mission and vision. If not, it will be received for what it is…manipulation and micro-management under the innocuous banner of “culture”. People know that’s a farce and you will develop a minimalist attitude towards productivity. The moment you begin to micro-manage people, they will force you to continue to do so in order to accomplish anything.
Learning – People want to know you care. One of the best ways to show you care is to develop them professionally. Make sure you culture not only supports, but champions learning and development. A learning environment leaves room for mistakes and errors without the fear of being chastised unnecessarily. Honest mistakes happen and a learning environment reduces the stress of making them. Less stress means more productivity and less health issues…which usually translates into less absenteeism.
Truthful – No matter what you’ve experienced in the past, people want and can handle the truth. It’s so offensive and insulting to be treated with kiddie gloves under the assumption you’re just not educated enough, mature enough, whatever enough to navigate hearing the truth. You may be surprised how many innovative solutions can be developed when the truth is consistently shared throughout the organization.
Utilitarian – No matter what is in place, there will always be those who choose to operate on the fringes. Don’t worry about it. Make sure that the overall focus of your values and culture support the largest majority. There may be the occasional opportunity for you to make special concessions, so don’t rule it out entirely. Just don’t let the habitual naysayers contort and bastardize how your culture is developed. Culture acts as a governance of a community based on commonly accepted behaviors. There will always be those who feel they should be able to operate outside these boundaries. Deal with it accordingly.
Respectful – Conflict WILL occur. There is no way to avoid differences, nor should you try. Everything can be dealt with via the lens of respect. Respect doesn’t automatically mean compromise or common ground has to rule the day. A respectful dialog can take place for the sake of understanding the position of another. It is in the understanding of another view that allows us to respect another’s position without abandoning our own. It allows for a discussion on how to align things with the values instead of a biased position of a particular person or group.
Empowerment – Let people explore their creativity. Give them the freedom to be as autonomous as possible. Sure there are certain industries that are more heavily regulated than others, but as long as they stay within the necessary guidelines in order to comply legally let them have at it. Empowered people make positive changes. Sure you will have a few duds, but that’s the price of progress. Don’t let the duds diminish the opportunity to experience the successes!