This post, by Jeff Urban, is republished from the Leadership and Community blog.
If you want to make your head spin, read the “company culture” definitions submitted on Wikipedia. The “experts” can’t agree on a definition. Wikipedia even includes a “disclaimer” that the subject is subjective. Company culture is difficult to define, and there is more than one definition. However you define it, when an employee is asked about their company’s culture, organizations want the response to be positive since we are usually talking about the same thing – how we as individuals feel about and describe what it is like to work at our company.
Organizations often try to “define” their company culture. The ones I most often see have some gobbledygook about “work hard, play hard” or “work/life balance” or “Customers are #1”. Blah, blah, blah. Most of these efforts are simply a marketing spin. Lipstick on a pig.
Forget trying to define it. I believe if you truly want your employees to feel positive about the culture three things are essential: elements, alignment and consistency.
Every organization has to decide why they are in business and what role employees play in their business plan. The business plan starts clear and simple, but as an organization grows and adds employees and clients, it gets more complicated. As the saying goes, “More people, more problems.” Pretty soon there are mission statements, core values, key business indicators/metrics, goals, structure, policies, communication, performance management, hiring profiles, etc.
I am not sure if there is a description that encompasses all of these, but for the purpose of this discussion I am going to call them “elements”. These key elements make up your business plan.
An organization finds it needs each of these elements to be defined in order to be successful. Each company has a different mix of elements in their recipe for success. Organizations are continually reviewing the elements in their business plan. Too many elements lead to unnecessary bureaucracy; too few, chaos.
The elements selected and defined will be the foundation for the organization’s culture.
The elements should dictate how you do business, including your employee’s role in accomplishing this. However, there needs to be alignment. There cannot be contradictions. Mission statements need to align with core values which needs to align with goals which needs to align with performance management… you get the picture.
Most companies recognize the need for alignment. If your elements are well defined and aligned, you don’t need employees walking into the President’s office and asking “What should we do?” Having employees on the same page results in greater efficiency and effectiveness. Employees want to do the right thing. Well defined elements that are in alignment enable this to happen. If elements contradict the importance of customers versus employees versus profits, employees will struggle in trying to do the right thing.
Review your business plan. What elements have been defined? Too many or too few? Make sure there is alignment to ensure employees know what to do.
You have your key elements for the business plan. There is alignment so employees know what needs to be done. However, where most companies fail is in executing consistently. Organizations go through all this trouble to define these elements, but then they aren’t consistent with their behavior. I compare it to being a parent. Your children are going to do what you do, not what you tell them to do. Your employees are no different. The number of real world examples of this is endless, but here are a few:
- Management incentives focused on profitability while core values are defined around customer and/or employee satisfaction.
- Hiring employees that do not align with the elements of the business plan. If customer service is a key element, new hires need to recognize and believe the importance of customer service.
- Management fails to hold itself accountable. The further up the food chain you go, the less feedback often exists. Employees may judge and hold management to a higher level of standard – and they should. As I stated earlier, employees are going to do what you do, not what you tell them to do.
These are just a few examples. There are many more. Satisfaction surveys and 360-reviews are often intended to identify inconsistencies. However, if the inconsistencies are not addressed, then the validity of surveys and reviews are diminished and become a joke to employees. Here are a few warning signs. If your employees are thinking:
- “Why bother completing an employee satisfaction survey. Nothing will be done anyway.”
- “Why complete a performance review on my manager. I am sure it will come back to bite me in the…”
- “When reciting the organization’s core values, I can’t help but roll my eyes.”
Consistency is hard. No organization is perfect. Mistakes are made. Recognize, acknowledge and correct the mistakes. Make adjustments. Monitor behavior. Keep people on the same page.
Is company culture overrated? No, but my suggestion to organizations is quit trying to define it. Instead, identify the key elements of your business plan, and make sure these elements align and execute consistently. If you do this, you will have a winning recipe for your employees to talk positively about working for your organization and the outside world will recognize you for having a strong company culture.
Note: Jeff originally wrote this blog post for his organization’s blog.