A neat definition for business cultures, adapted from Deal and Kennedy, is “the way we do things around here”. In your organisation, does culture work to support your objectives? Do people work together with collaborative spirit and a common focus towards achieving great outcomes?
There’s little doubt that cultures which are inherently positive yield greater productivity, greater morale, greater loyalty, and greater returns. But how do you create and maintain such a culture? Here are some areas you might think about if your own business culture seems to be short of the ideal:
There are two aspects of connection that are vital. First, there needs to be good connection with what the organisation is trying to achieve. When the organisation is able to articulate a compelling sense of purpose that people can connect to, it’s energising! People happily rally around a good cause. The same principle applies for teams of course; team leaders must ensure that everyone in the team is well connected to the agenda for the team. When people are clear on what the target is they are far more likely to commit themselves wholeheartedly to the achievement of it. So the message here is: Make sure there is a direction that people can understand, appreciate and connect with.
Second, there needs to be good connection between the leaders of the organisation and their teams, and between the members of each team. You can see when this happening and when it’s not happening. Good connection is highlighted by the way people listen deeply to each other and relate with a genuine level of respect.
Third, the connection needs to extend across teams. As a rule, it’s not a healthy situation when there are multiple cultures operating within an organisation (some exceptions apply). The key is for leaders at the highest level of the organisation to be seen to be operating as one team; they are much better placed then to ensure that their own people operate across the boundaries with the same philosophy in mind.
Closely allied with connection is a sense of care being demonstrated by leaders to each member of their team, and by members across each team.
Genuine expressions of care are powerful creators of trust. When people know that someone is genuinely interested in their welfare and success, they are far more likely to engage in the open and honest conversations that are the basis of a vibrant culture.
Expressing care is not incongruent with effective performance management. To give an example, when staff members know their leaders truly care for them, the leaders are actually better placed to have the honest conversations required from time to time; staff will know the leader is working to try to achieve the best outcomes for both the employer and the employee.
We all know that good communication is vital for good collaboration; why then don’t we always practise it? One reason is, we get caught up in our own worlds of demand and fail to remember that success ultimately requires everyone being engaged to the same cause. Great cultures are born out of people being on, and staying on, the same page; that is, everyone knows the state of play and is able to focus their energy towards the solutions required.
Communication needs to work very effectively downward from the leadership, between team members, across organisational boundaries and upward to the leadership. With communication working in a 360 degree loop like that, no-one is going to get surprised by the true state of things and everyone can get on with the job of building a great organisation!
Commitment is all about following through, no matter what. So when the inevitable differences of opinion or other such challenges arise, the focus is towards resolution rather than separation. This is always the ultimate test for leadership; when hard times come, will the leaders demonstrate the way by finding that extra level of resilience, determination and inspiration required to keep themselves and others striving to get the outcome required? And for staff more generally, what’s their sense of responsibility – are they prepared to put in the extra effort that might be required from time to time, or would they rather complain and seek a level of comfort more in line with the good times?
Great cultures are built on commitment to the agenda and commitment to each other throughout the ups and downs of the journey.
We all like to know how we are doing. So keeping people up to date on the scorecard for key goals is a crucial element in building a positive culture. When people are doing a good job, their achievements need to be acknowledged. When they aren’t achieving the required mark, they should also be told and the opportunity given to discuss options for improvement.
This doesn’t just apply in a “leader to team member” sense. In a great culture, people are able to talk honestly with each other – “team member to team member” – about shortfalls in performance; it’s not about the person, it’s about the goal and what’s required to achieve it.
When people get confirmation around how they are doing, there is a liberating sense of clarity. For some, it will be a positive acknowledgment of their good efforts; for others it could be a message about required performance improvement. Either way, people can direct their energies towards the next steps rather than towards dealing with the stress which accompanies uncertainty.
In summary, if you want to create a culture which achieves supernormal levels of loyalty, morale and productivity, and makes you a stand-out employer of choice, then take some moments to think about how well you align with the 5cs listed here. Get these largely right and you are a long way towards building a truly collaborative and compelling culture!