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How to Create a Culture that Drives Success

August 10, 2015

By: Terri Williams

As Peter Drucker once said, “Culture eats strategy for breakfast.” And lunch. And dinner. In fact, culture eats everything for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

Establishing a corporate culture is important to your company’s success because it determines all of your organization's other areas. In addition to branding and strategy, culture also determines hiring decisions and affects how well employees fit within your company.

A survey by OfficeTeam reveals that 64% of human resources managers have hired employees that didn’t fit the company’s culture, and 66% have lost employees who didn’t fit in. When interviewing, Office Team recommends a series of questions to help determine an applicant’s fit within the organization, but these questions can also help an organization identify its culture.

  1. What values are important – and demonstrated?
  2. Does the company stress collaboration and teamwork, or autonomy and independent work?
  3. Is the company conservative, or does it encourage risk-taking and innovation?
  4. Is the work environment closed-off and quiet, or open and lively?
  5. Is socializing with colleagues and company celebrations encouraged?
  6. Does the company promote work-life balance?

A note on values: most companies have core values, such as integrity, excellence, customer service, etc. However, listing core values on paper and framing them in the hallway doesn’t indicate that these are driving forces in the organization. For example, a company may say that integrity is a core value, but then it sells its clients’ information to other companies without permission. Or the organization may list customer service as a core value, but then penalize customer service representatives for spending too much time on the phone answering questions from those customers.

When you’re diagnosing your organization’s culture and recognizing its strengths and weaknesses, your diagnosis should include several key principles, according to a recent report by Strategy&, a part of the PricewaterhouseCoopers network:

  1. Seek fresh input from across the company. Your culture includes all of your employees' cumulative behaviors and attitudes, so don’t focus solely on senior management.
  2. If you’re trying to change or build on certain behaviors, choose only a few to focus on. You’ll be frustrated if you try to address more than a couple of behaviors at one time.
  3. Recognize that existing culture guides and influences behavior. If the chosen behaviors are radically different, the probability increases that they may be rejected.

The strategy also explains how corporate cultural traits have both positive and negative implications:

Positive Implications

- Naturally entrepreneurial, financially motivated

- Respectful, consensus-seeking, compliant

- Proud, protective, and loyal to own group

- Ambitious, aspirational, financially enabled

Negative Implications

- Transactional win-lose mindset, focus on monetary rewards

- Adverse to accountability, uncomfortable giving feedback

- Natural tendency to silos, distrustful of other groups

- Inefficient, complacent, unrealistic

According to the Gallup Business Journal, building a high-performing culture involves 6 steps:

1. Manage work performance effectively by doing the following:

  • Use a merit-based system to differentiate between high performers and low performers
  • Clearly define the expectations and rewards at every level - individual, team, department, organizational
  • Create a transparent reward system
  • Communicate goals and objectives

2. Empower employees at every level, which will allow them to:

  • Identify and react to changing marketplace data
  • Devise innovative solutions to meet challenges
  • Create positive experiences with customers

3. Ensure that leaders are visible, accessible, and:

  • Communicate consistently regarding the company’s future, and the employees’ roles
  • Model the desired culture before employees
  • Cultivate employee trust and respect
  • Include employees – especially field experts and potential leaders - in strategy planning

4. Make sure the strategy is customer-centric. Connect the brand, employees, objectives, and mission to the customers.

5. Create a collaborative approach to problem-solving.

6. Invest in training and development opportunities. This not only improves performance but also allows the company to identify high-potential employees and prevents talent hoarding.

Creating a culture that drives success isn’t easy. Still, organizations that fail to evaluate themselves and take the necessary steps in the right direction will not create sustainable growth.

Terri Williams

Terri Williams began writing professionally in 1997, working with a large nonprofit organization. Her business, education, and lifestyle articles have appeared in various online publications including Yahoo, USA Today, The Houston Chronicle, U.S. News & World Report University Directory, The San Francisco Chronicle, and the Center for Digital Ethics and Policy at Loyola University Chicago. Williams has a Bachelor of Arts in English from the University of Alabama at Birmingham.

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