Three Ways to Improve Corporate Culture

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Company Culture is Pop-Culture for Business

Culture is more and more becoming the hot thing that organizations everywhere are talking about, but many are having a difficult time figuring out how to get their culture right, let alone leveraging culture for value. Many companies are reaping the benefits of a great culture, while others are facing tough challenges that a strong culture would likely improve, and it’s catching the attention of C-suite executives and business academics across the globe.

Forbes magazine recently reviewed a study conducted by Duke and Columbia business schools around corporate culture, surveying 1,400 C-suite executives in North America over the last 13 months. Their findings confirming what we’ve been helping our clients with for almost three decades—that culture is vital to a successful business and that the right culture is going to deliver the right results.

Some of their findings included:

  • More than 90% said culture was important at their firms.
  • 92% said they believed improving their firm’s corporate culture would improve the value of their company.
  • More than 50% said corporate culture influences productivity, creativity, profitability, firm value, and growth rates.
  • Only 15% said their firm’s corporate culture was where it needed to be.

What C-Suite Executives Had to Say About Culture…

More and more leaders are recognizing the importance of culture: 85% of C-suite executives surveyed said their culture wasn’t where it needed to be. Why is this? Oftentimes, leaders put more emphasis on strategy over culture. Simply put, it’s not made a priority. Do colleges have a Culture 101 class? Do teams ever have off-site culture summits to go with their ever-occurring, off-site strategy or sales summits? The findings from this study, coupled with the research we’ve conducted over several years, demonstrates that most leaders don’t address and manage their culture. And it’s likely because they don’t know how; they were never trained or informed.

The Cultural Fix

To better help leaders understand the significant impact that culture has on the results an organization produces, and to help them learn to manage and transform their culture, we suggest taking these initial three steps:

1. Define Results

To understand culture, we first need to understand what we want our culture to achieve. Simply stated, culture impacts results. So what are the results you are trying to achieve? Organizations have strategies, tactics, missions, visions, values, KPIs, and the list goes on and on. How do you identify your organization’s top results (what we call Key Results)? We would define the Key Results as, “The top three or four results that are strategically critical to the success of the organization.” Limiting the number is imperative. We recently worked with a large healthcare organization and met with the CEO. In our initial meeting, we asked him what the Key Results of the organization are and if everyone knew what those were. He proudly responded that they were very clear on what the Key Results were and that everyone knew them because just the month prior they had distributed the three-page handout with all 132 results on them!

We explained the concerns we had around a list that long, and after coaching and working with him, we were able to get him to pare down his list to four major Key Results. Now, many of the results on the list of 132 were not actual Key Results; rather, they were tactics or KPIs that fell under the four Key Results we just got aligned on. But now, equipped with the “Big 4,” he was able to continually speak to them, and employees were actually able to remember them without having to go to a three-page handout.

Key Results usually fall into the following buckets: increasing revenue, decreasing costs, customer or employee satisfaction, and other enterprise-wide initiatives that are imperative to the success of an organization. While each industry and every company has different areas of focus that they deem pertinent, it is crucial that these results are defined in such a way that they can instill and foster a culture that can produce these results.

2. Define Culture

To manage culture, we first have to define it. We define it simply how people think and act in an organization. So, basically, we change the way people think and act to achieve new, better, and different results. Often, leaders are looking for more “traction” in the change process—more early adopters, better results, and faster progress. Roger Connors and Tom Smith introduced the world to The Results Pyramid® model over two decades ago. They are the founders of Partners In Leadership, four-time New York Times Bestselling authors and the recognized global experts on this topic. The Results Pyramid model is a simple yet very effective means for understanding the connection between the way people currently think and act and the results you want.

The model shows that the results you are getting come from the actions people take. The actions people take come from the beliefs they hold about what they should do and how they should do it. Those beliefs come from the experiences they have. In other words, experiences foster beliefs, beliefs drive actions, and actions produce results. To change the results you are getting, the model suggests you have to change the beliefs people hold.

The best way to start is to develop a clear understanding of the key cultural shifts that need to occur from the current culture (what we call, C1) to the desired culture (C2). Remember, in our model, the current results (R1) is produced by C1. R2, the results you need to achieve—which are different than the R1 results you have been getting—is produced by C2.

Identifying what C2 looks like is critical. To facilitate this, the leadership team of an organization needs to identify a set of Cultural Beliefs® that guide the change process. Cultural Beliefs are a set of beliefs and values that, if demonstrated by leaders and the workforce, should result in a C2 capable of delivering R2. These beliefs guide all of the coaching, communication, and feedback that teams give one another throughout the organization. Cultural Beliefs ultimately drive focus on the change effort and keep it on target.

More insights on culture

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3. Define Accountability

Once you have the results and desired culture clearly defined, now you have to define who is accountable to make the necessary shifts. Many leaders fail to clearly define results because there is a sense that, if they do, they will be the only ones accountable to achieve them. A great example of this can be seen in the culture of one of the largest energy companies in the United States, a Fortune 1000 organization we have been working with over the past five years. When we began our work with the executive team, it was clear that there was no alignment and no accountability for achieving their results.

A silo mentality was rampant as the operations team was focused on cutting costs and getting lean, the customer service department was focused on responding to customer issues, and human resources was focused on retention of employees. They were all focused on their own objectives. In fact, if you would have asked the leaders who was accountable for safety, they would have all turned and pointed to the safety manager! The reality is we need everyone, regardless of if they are in operations, customer service, or HR taking accountability for safety. The same holds true for each of the Key Results, and it starts with an organizational foundation of accountability.

Get Your Culture to Work for You

Is it time for your organization to start focusing on culture the right way? Then follow the steps we mentioned and begin to positively impact the value of your company.

For more information on the process that Partners In Leadership has used to help transform the cultures of some of the world’s best known companies, download our Change Methodology, an interview with thought leaders Roger Connors and Tom Smith that provides a comprehensive insight on how cultural transformation can start working in your organization.

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Partners In Leadership, The Results Pyramid, Cultural Beliefs, and Culture of Accountability are all registered trademarks of Partners In Leadership. All other trademarks and registered trademarks used herein are the property of their respective owners.

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