“Culture eats strategy for breakfast”is a quote from legendary management consultant and writer Peter Drucker. Drucker didn’t mean that strategy wasn’t important but that creating a powerful and empowering culture was a surer way to achieve success.
So, what exactly is culture, and how can you influence it?
Being a pragmatist, I like to describe culture as ‘the way things get done around here’. Theorists may prefer ‘the ideas, customs, and social behaviour of a particular people or society’. The culture of a business can be very different from how you’d like things to get done, and how they actually get done. When looking at what the culture of a business is, it’s essential for leaders to understand that the view of culture from the top of can be very different from how it might be experienced by others at different levels and within different teams. But one thing is the same; and that is that the biggest influencer of culture is behaviour. You can have as many posters, pens, and bean bags to convey your ‘aspirational’ culture as your employer brand budget can afford and organise as many ‘fun’ events as you care for, but the behaviours that support your values and culture are what really counts.
How do the behaviours that support your culture show up?
Every time you interact with a colleague, client or supplier, you have the opportunity to influence your culture. What are you saying (or not saying!) to these groups of people in communications? Is what is being said actually what you want to convey? As a leader are you aware of your own behaviours and how they might impact on others? Diversity of personality can mean that what might be seen as an outcome focused approach might be seen by someone else as overbearing. It’s also important to make the connection between intent and impact of behaviour.
We’re too small to worry about that just yet – we all understand the culture, right?
Don’t take it for granted that just because you are a start-up or a small business that everyone ‘gets’ your culture. It’s ok when you are a handful of employees, but evidence suggests that these types of businesses reach a ‘culture chasm’ once they reach a certain size. If you haven’t taken steps to set out and reinforce the culture you want, then like doing up a button on a garment wrong at the top, it will be wrong all the way through. Start with making sure you are hiring well at the top and invest in hiring a coach who can challenge behaviour to support your culture.
Changing culture is hard, but it can be done.
Open lines of communication with employees and managers, be approachable, be transparent and listen. Encourage openness during appraisals and one-to-one meetings with managers and senior staff. Ask your employees what they think informally at the water cooler!
What gets rewarded gets reinforced. In ‘Leadership and the One Minute Manager’, Blanchard says to look for the people who are doing their jobs well; and tell them. Switch to this technique rather than looking for people not doing their jobs well. Reward the behaviours you want within your business and ensure your reward strategy supports your culture.
Strong leadership can help affect behaviours in the workplace. Are you leading by example? What changes to your behaviour do you need to make?
One of the most common negative behaviours in the workplace is bullying. There are many triggers to this kind of behaviour such as poor job design, job stress or job insecurity.
Organisational change can be a strong factor too. If employees feel that you aren’t collaborating and they have no say, powerlessness can be demotivating.
Lack of training or nurturing development can also affect employees, making them feel that they don’t matter.
Are employees being challenged to keep them engaged or perhaps you need to look at reward? If employees don’t feel valued absence rates, turnover and productivity can be affected.
How to change behaviours
Team Coaching for the whole management team in order to cascade change initiatives through your business can be the first step in changing behaviour. Your managers need to buy into the changes and these changes need to come from the top. Clear goals and a vision of what you want are key components.
Implement personality profiling for your management team. This will highlight areas where coaching may be required and helps with self-awareness of unproductive behaviours.
Provide Team Coaching for your employees to improve cohesiveness. There are many different ways that this type of training can be delivered, pick one to suit your team and your business. Make sure any psychometrics embrace diversity of personality and doesn’t put people in boxes or types.
Listen to your employees, give feedback and find out what motivates people and be transparent. Be aware of what is going in in your company. Do your employees have the freedom to be themselves at work?
Employees place value on good working conditions, flexible working, feeling their point of view is really listened to, understanding their contribution and how that is valued, and opportunities for progression.
Results of improving your culture
The reputation of your business should ultimately improve amongst clients and employees. Your team should pull together more making for a happier, inclusive and more productive working environment for all.