Cultural Beliefs are Better than New Policies

Citizen Advocates, a non-profit organization that provides behavioral and developmental support, faced a challenge that hindered its growth: the company’s culture wasn’t clear to employees. This meant people weren’t aligned on cultural beliefs and values, which didn’t instill confidence in people’s actions. “When people didn’t know what the values were, they would ask for a policy or procedure,” Citizen Advocates CEO James Button said. 

However, when Citizen Advocates was able to clearly define its cultural beliefs and values, everyone got on the same page. The company also spent fewer resources on creating new policies. “With the introduction of cultural beliefs, we didn’t need a policy for everything,” Button said. “Articulating our cultural beliefs allowed us to function as one team, thriving together.”

Citizen Advocates’ story proves that implementing new policies isn’t always the best option to create the experiences you want for your people. Instead, focus on defining cultural beliefs that help everyone in your organization to connect to the work they do every day.

What makes cultural beliefs so effective

Cultural beliefs unite and empower your people 

Shared cultural beliefs create a united front among your people. When cultural beliefs are ingrained within your organization, employees won’t second-guess what’s inappropriate or appropriate behavior for your company.

Let’s say you’re a hiring manager interviewing candidates at a company with the cultural belief that everyone should be accountable. During an interview, a candidate reveals information that shows they don’t prioritize meeting deadlines and being dependable to colleagues. 

This would empower you to pass on this candidate without having to ask a superior, because you know they wouldn’t be a good fit for your organization. In addition, your team and recruiter will stand by your decision because everyone is on the same page about hiring people who value accountability.

Policies don’t necessarily unite people. That’s because you can’t force your people to believe something. You need to demonstrate to them, through action, how your cultural beliefs propel your organization forward.

Cultural beliefs give people a point of reference

People need a point of reference for how they should behave at work. Demonstrating how your cultural beliefs show up at work provides that point of reference. You can achieve this through a top-down approach.  

For example, if one of your cultural beliefs emphasizes the importance of proactivity, your leaders can demonstrate that by anticipating challenges in the future and creating contingency plans for them. This will motivate your people at all levels to display this type of forward thinking, which also fosters a culture of innovation. 

Encouraging behavior through policies is challenging because policies only give people a point of reference for how to behave in certain situations. They provide language on what people should and shouldn’t do, but no visual cues. This makes it challenging for your people to conceptualize what positive and negative behavior looks like in the context of your workplace.

Cultural beliefs allow for positive, teachable moments

A policy is typically viewed from a binary perspective: either someone is adhering to a policy or they aren’t. If someone isn’t, punitive action is usually involved. This creates a negative experience for your people that isn’t motivating or inspiring. It also doesn’t teach them what good behavior is. Cultural beliefs do the opposite. 

Cultural beliefs motivate people to emulate positive behavior. When you instill positive cultural beliefs within your organization, you create an experience where people can see the benefits of behaving a certain way.

Let’s say you’re a manager at a company with a cultural belief that showing gratitude toward others improves relationships among colleagues. You observe that your boss always goes out of her way to show appreciation for your hard work. In turn, you are motivated to go the extra mile for her, your colleagues, and the teams you manage, creating a positive experience for everyone involved. Seeing this correlation inspires the people within your organization to prioritize feedback and focused recognition.

How to instill cultural beliefs

Define your culture

If you don’t know what your culture is, you can’t identify the cultural beliefs that will accelerate organizational growth. Taking stock of the current state of your culture is a good place to start. 

If your idea of culture is providing free beer in the break room or unlimited paid time off (PTO), you might be missing some important opportunities to build a culture that actually drives results while still boosting engagement and increasing retention. 

It’s important to decide what kind of culture you want to have. Once you know that, you should take steps to shift your culture from its current state to your desired state.

Lead by example

To make a cultural belief integral to your organization, you and your leaders must show that you genuinely believe it. This can be achieved by consistently demonstrating how the belief is embodied at your company.

Let’s say you want your people to believe that PTO is essential because it prevents burnout. Yet, you notice many of your employees are hesitant to take PTO because they feel guilty and are scared that others will view them as lazy. That belief likely won’t change unless your leaders take PTO themselves and talk about how it helped them return to work recharged. This creates a different experience for your employees, leading to a new belief.

The path from experiences → beliefs → actions → results isn’t a complicated one. When you create experiences that reinforce your cultural beliefs, you create an environment where your people are motivated to act in ways that are conducive to achieving the results your organization needs. 

For over 30 years, we’ve been empowering organizations to build a results-driven culture. We will guide you on your culture journey as you work to align your teams, build a strong foundation, and achieve your results. 

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