Culture is quickly becoming the secret sauce for adding value to and engaging stakeholders in the organization. Many successful companies are known for their strong cultures and the engagement of their people. HOW DO THEY DO IT?
Here’s what I have learned over the past forty years as a “culture nerd”.
Leaders of organizations with strong cultures proactively direct the shaping of their culture and prevent competition among sub-cultures. They involve members of their leadership team to develop culture awareness programs to maintain and evolve their culture to be supportive of their organization’s goals. The most effective programs are amazingly simple—usually consisting of three parts:
- A series of individual meetings with leaders and people who influence the shaping of the existing culture,
- A simple description of the desired culture (mission, vision, brand, and values), and
- Events that demonstrate the culture and how it drives the relationships with employees, customers, vendors, and other
Simplicity in the message is the key ingredient to an effective cultural awareness program. It must be memorable and arouse the passions within each individual. Leaders see their participation in these programs as a prime opportunity to demonstrate their personal commitment and passion for the organization’s values and cultural goals. They believe that culture will survive and thrive when their words and deeds are adopted and replicated by the stakeholders.
In today’s world however, culture programs are not enough. Employees want to interact with the culture to make it consistent with their own personal values and ethics. They want to be proud of the organization and its leaders. But if they are to be engaged, they need to know more than the words and acts that demonstrate the organization’s culture; they need a process for disclosing what they perceive as culture transgressions, at all levels in the organization. They want a role that is seen as helpful and positive in keeping the culture on track as described by their leaders. Engaged stakeholders live the culture and see themselves as culture cops. They are the true believers of the organization and are passionate about its values, its brand, and the way it treats its customers and employees. They are proud of their work and the organization. They see it as their responsibility to keep the culture on track and don’t mind telling their leaders when they have stepped beyond their lines, and the leaders need to be willing to listen. After all, these culture cops are the leaders’ disciples.
Culture cops don’t want to be associated with the negative image of “whistle blower”. They see their role as one of convincing others that this is a great place to work and can provide all kinds of examples of how great the organization and its leaders really are. Most importantly, the culture cops tell the stories that perpetuate the culture as “the way things are done around here”. These are the people who transform normal stakeholders into raving fans.
What is needed in today’s organization is a means or process by which the culture cops can discuss their cultural observations with the owners of the organization’s culture. Most leaders believe their management structure provides an adequate means of hearing and discussing the culture cops’ perceived transgressions. Unfortunately, these very same managers are themselves often the source of the complaint and therefore are not willing to pass the complaint up the chain of command or to raise these challenges at the periodic events of the traditional culture program.
I have listened to many a culture cop complain that they have no channel to speak directly to the cultural leader(s) about the rise of sub-cultures within their groups and the dysfunction they are creating. Often, they don’t believe their department’s leaders understand the organization’s culture and prefer their own way of doing things over the corporate culture. This is a normal occurrence among new and natural leaders. This is a problem in almost every organization.
Culture cops are the leaders’ most vocal advocates and believe that shaping the corporate culture is the responsibility of the organization’s executives and that it should not to be shaped by the most recent survivor of the internal fighting among the various sub-cultures. They know that left unaddressed, the sub-cultures will continue to spread and diminish the impact of the desired corporate culture.
A culture judiciary system that allows and encourages anyone to discuss the meaning of the words and actions of the organization’s leaders is needed to ensure the adherence to the organization’s values, brand, and culture. In addition to being a means of enforcement, the cultural judiciary system is an excellent source of assessing the effectiveness of the organization culture programs.
More about the culture judiciary system will appear in blogs later this year.