I’ve had the pleasure of working with many organizations, all with their unique culture. I can tell if the culture has been embedded effectively by talking with employees and asking them to describe their organizational atmosphere.
When I hear consistency in their answers, it’s music to my ears –I know that leadership has put intentional effort into building a culture that employees can describe to others.
If you want to create a specific culture within your organization, you need to be precise and explicit about what that is. Otherwise, you get the default culture (whatever that is), which may not be to your liking or in the best interest of your business.
Even if you lead a business unit within a larger corporation, you can create a culture if you’re intentional about building it. Asking yourself some simple questions: “What characteristics would serve our organization and customers the best?” and “How would that translate into a culture?” are good ways to start. Better yet, include your team in the conversation.
Once you have dedicated time and effort to thinking about the culture you want and getting the kind of input from others that helps you to clarify it, here are some high-level steps you can take to begin to embed it:
Communicate it. Don’t expect culture to automatically unfold without a lot of effort on your part and that of your management team. Use a variety of media to get your message across, and speak of it at every chance you get. Weave your cultural message into every formal and informal conversation you have. Tell stories about it. Talk about how it will affect the future of your organization. When culture change fails, it’s often because it hasn’t been communicated enough.
Demonstrate it in every way possible. If your culture is about taking decisive action, take it. If it has an element of fun, have fun. If it’s about being respectful, then you’d darn well better show respect. If you want a culture that provides high-touch customer service, then show what that means. There is a lot to be said about communicating what’s expected, but a lot more will be learned and embedded by your employees when you demonstrate the culture you expect to have.
Hire for it. When you bring new employees, managers, and leaders into your organization, make sure that your team has the tools to determine if those who are being considered for positions are a good fit with the culture. They should be able to screen candidates and interview for the cultural characteristics that you want to entrench.
Hold others accountable for it. Pay attention to how your staff is also working to communicate and demonstrate the cultural characteristics you expect in your organization. Coach them around those, have ongoing dialog about what you expect, and if it isn’t demonstrated, take action.
Reward for it. Find ways to reward others who best demonstrate the culture you want. Make an example of them, and do it publicly when it makes sense to do so. Having visible examples of how the culture is demonstrated will provide examples for others to follow.
Commemorate it. Surely, there are ways to mark and make apparent the results of embedding the culture. Find them, and enjoy the fruits of your labor throughout the organization through celebration, communication or rejoicing. You’ve achieved no small feat, and finding a way to celebrate will help to further embed your culture.
Finally, be patient and diligent. Embedding a culture always seems to take longer than we expect it to.
Mary Jo Asmus is an executive coach and owner/operator of Aspire Collaborative Services. She and her team work with organizations worldwide to create coaching programs and coach leaders to become the best they can be.