Much like electricity which cannot be seen but empowers the devices, culture is an invisible force that drives beliefs, habits, rituals and outcomes of an organization. In fact, culture is a sum total of an organization’s shared values, behaviors, rituals, beliefs, attitudes, goals and practices.
It exerts a powerful influence on day to day behaviors and choices of people. Yet, the truth is that most organizations are not aware about the current state of their culture.
The thing about culture is – even when you are not consciously building a culture, it is still being formed by default based on your actions and decisions on a day to day basis. And it impacts your bottom line.
“If you get the culture right, most of the other stuff will take care of itself.” – Tony Hsieh, CEO, Zappos
If culture is anyway being formed, why not work to build it consciously? Here are some good starting points to build a strong culture.
Clarify your motives: The goal of building a strong culture is not to merely extend a “feel good” factor to your people. The goal of building a great culture is to empower, enable and network your people through values, beliefs, rituals, systems and practices so that they can create real business value.
Understand the drivers of great culture: Many leaders associate culture with external perks like free lunches, vacation policies and such. Culture is driven by combination of internal and external forces and most importantly, understanding of what your business really needs.
Define your values: Once you know what kind of culture you want to build, you need to establish values – guiding principles that should dictate the behaviors and actions and help people differentiate between right and the wrong. Involve your people in defining values for better buy-in and collective discovery of associated behaviors.
Live them: Values defined, posters created,communication done and office space is decorated with new values – great! But culture, real culture, is built one action and one decision at a time. Your values will mean nothing unless they are lived at every level within the organization. Reward what you want more of.
Assess your culture: Take time to periodically assess the culture. Are we living our values? What do people think about our culture? What are our strengths and opportunities for improvements? Assessments can vary from simple internal surveys to sophisticated external assessment tools. The key is to know where you stand and what needs improvement.
Take Actions: People make sense of an organization’s culture not by written words but by real actions. If building a strong culture is your priority, act on the feedback you receive from the culture assessment. Talk to your people, involve them in the change process and make real progress in areas that matter. Strong cultures are shaped largely by how leaders act.
Communicate Relentlessly: It helps to communicate about your culture and values continuously and explicitly. Your internal and external stakeholders need to understand your culture. Communicate through words and through your actions. Reward people who demonstrate right behaviors and live your values. Provide feedback to those who don’t. Encourage open and honest dialogue about your culture whenever you can.
Yes, your product or service is the starting point of organization building activity. But unless you build a great culture, it is incredibly difficult to accelerate growth.
So, there is a reason why Peter Drucker famously said, “Culture eats strategy for breakfast.” Strategy is created in boardroom but culture determines how people on the floor actually implement the strategy – and how well!