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Change Your Culture (Or the Culture Will Change Your Business)

Nike CEO Apologizes for Corporate Culture, Uber’s Efforts to Fix Culture, Wells Fargo’s Cutthroat Culture Drove Fraud, these are just a few recent headlines illustrating the power of culture to determine company direction.

Change Your Culture

Humans are social creatures. This does not make us unique in the animal kingdom; there is evidence that suggests even bacteria have genetic determinants for social recognition. However, humans are finely-tuned social beings which means your employees will find ways to amplify their social interactions at work. They will look for shared attitudes, values, goals, and practices because it makes socialization, and thus work, more efficient. This is culture. But culture is also a dichotomy; it is about unity and division.

A recent Harvard Business Review article details how culture is a strategic tool used to achieve goals. It is critical for every leader to create an intentional culture in their organization that aligns with both principles and objectives. If you don’t define and build your dream culture by shaping, nurturing, and anticipating challenges, you’re rolling the dice on your organization’s goals. Here are three factors to consider while strategically planning and achieving the right corporate culture.

1. You do not need gimmicks to shape your culture

Look around, observe what is already happening. Then take into account your region, industry, strategy, leadership, and organizational design because the current context and conditions matter when shaping culture. What are the most relevant features of your existing culture? Start to think about what you desire in your culture—be specific in your values, and frame your cultural definitions in your business reality. Remember, your employees are dynamic beings. Be cautious of gravitating towards kitsch. The sentiments you choose to define your culture don’t need re-worked words like “di-bear-sity.” It’s confusing and insulting.

2. It’s your baby, nurture it

After you’ve established your cultural framework, you’ll need to continue to focus on your key cultural pillars on a regular basis to guide progress towards the type of environment you’re trying to create. One of the biggest mistakes an entrepreneur can make is to assume that the “culture ball” that they got rolling will automatically continue its trajectory. Positive culture requires consistent nurturing. Find culture champions within your organization and ask them to be culture leaders and contribute to feeding and growing the kind of environment you’ve outlined in your framework. Ask them to let you know if the cultural framework is going down easy or causing adverse reactions. Also, make sure your performance management and training reinforce behaviors that are fundamental to the aspirational culture.

3. A challenge means engagement – don’t shut it down!

Expect challenges from your staff if your drive towards establishing the right kind of culture is working. The most engaged employees will challenge leaders or co-workers that they don’t feel are supporting the culture. They may even challenge business decisions they feel violate the previously established cultural norms. Hear those challenges out. Employees who are less engaged will look for ways to create division to achieve their own goals. Those are the people you should consider letting go. A single bad apple can spoil the barrel when it comes to culture, and it is critical to hire and fire based on cultural fit.

At its core, culture is so much more than just a few catchy slogans and a speech from time to time. Culture is a web of power relationships in which people are embedded, and these relationship dynamics are used to meet both personal and collective goals. Conversely, culture can also restrict the ability to achieve goals. As illustrated by problems exposed at Uber, Wells Fargo, Nike, and many other leading organizations, culture can make or break your business. When people feel frustrated at work, buying pizza for lunch will not make everything better. Culture requires a thoughtful, strategic definition, consistent leadership, and engagement. It’s not simple, and it’s not easy, but shaping, nurturing, and anticipating challenges to your organizational culture is a very good place to start. Define and lead your organizational culture or the culture will lead your organization.

Akira is the Founder & CEO of Cayenne Consulting. He has over 30 years of experience both as an entrepreneur and helping other entrepreneurs succeed. Akira earned his BA in Engineering Sciences from Harvard University. View details.

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