How would an outsider—a client or customer, perhaps—describe your company’s culture? If you don’t have an immediate answer to this question, ask yourself why. All too often, our organizations don’t have clearly defined and discussed cultures, ones that support and galvanize their purpose. And this affects our people, both inside and outside the enterprise.
In organizations with self-aware cultures that harness the positivity, talent, and productivity of their workforces, team members express pride in what they do. They are happy to fulfil their role in ensuring not only that the work is done, but also that the work is done well. And this translates to customer and client satisfaction.
In self-aware cultures, people know what the company stands for and how their work reflects its mission. They also know their strengths and weaknesses and how they fit into systems throughout the company. This allows team members to grow and evolve, just as the organization—and its culture—grows and evolves.
Think of the passion with which most start-ups launch. That lustre is all too often lost with the passage of time, as systems become less efficient, missions get lost in day-to-day monotony, and the larger focus is dulled by cultures that reward things antithetical to the organization’s original purpose. Fortunately, though, that lustre can be regained with strategic work spent on addressing organizational culture.
How to lead the charge forward
First, we must recognize that we cannot change what we cannot safely discuss. As a manager, you must be willing to have crucial—and often critical—conversations as they are needed. You set the tone for your people, and, as such, you must drive the process forward by setting a strong example and by your willingness to answer questions, listen closely, and embrace open-door transparency. By prioritizing opportunities to learn, truth-telling, and listening, you can lead the charge forward.
But these changes do take effort, and they take leadership. If, as a manager, you aren’t willing to practice and model these changes, you cannot effectively lead your team toward a better and healthier work environment, much less change the culture of the organization.
If you want to restore the lustre and shine to your organization, start with these five principles:
1. Reward and encourage truth-telling.
Ask for feedback, ask for it frequently, and listen to the answers. Ask follow-up questions to really get to the root of problem areas.
2. Act on the data available to you.
All too often, organizations ask for data but do nothing with it. When you ask for information, act in accordance with the results.
3. Build a culture that encourages people to stay and limits turnover.
You can do this by creating regular opportunities for growth and accountability, ensuring that employees feel valued, and making your organization feel like a team. Hold people accountable—even when it takes courage and vulnerability on your part.
4. Promote real collaboration.
Listen to people’s needs, rather than offering window-dressing solutions. What may seem like a collaboration strategy, such as open-space offices, may actually be in opposition to your stated aims by increasing distractions.
5. Draw a hard line.
Don’t tolerate bullying or other behaviours that may ruin morale, engagement, peer empathy, or accountability. Instead, hold each member of each team accountable for his or her contributions to the whole and the way in which members affect and contribute to culture.
If your company has lost the lustre with which it once shone, it doesn’t have to be a sign of a slow, impending death. Instead, let it serve as a reminder to return to that passion and brilliance that first gave your organization life. These are simple steps to help you recover your brilliance, and you can take these steps at any point in time. Will you?
About the author: Claudette Rowley is the CEO of Cultural Brilliance, a cultural design and change management consultancy. Over the past twenty years, she has consulted, trained, and coached executive leaders and teams at Fortune 1000 companies, small businesses, academic institutions, and start-ups, helping them create proactive and innovative workplace cultures that deliver outstanding results. She lays out a road map for organizational success in her new book, Cultural Brilliance: The DNA of Organizational Excellence.