These 5 steps will help you begin to define and shape your company’s organizational culture:
Uncover the story. Stories are powerful in identifying organizational culture. Begin by sharing stories about how you got started – what are some of the most energizing tales of the company as a start-up? What are the “legends” of the company? Who are the heroes of the organization? As stories are told, identify themes that tie to your company’s mission and values. Focus stories on what went well; when the company or an employee were at their best.
Define your culture expectations. The old saying goes, “if you don’t know where you’re going, any path will get you there.” It’s important to know where you’re going so that you’ll get where you want to go! Start by creating a cultural mission statement, including things like interpersonal values, levels of formality or informality, means and protocols of communication, and what you want to be known for from the perspectives of customers, employees, and the community.
Hire for culture fit. A crucial, and often-missed, an aspect of culture shaping is employee selection. Hiring people that fit within your cultural expectations ensures your culture will not be tarnished by individuals who don’t hold the same views, or whose personalities don’t mesh well with your desired culture. Check out the hiring checklist in my book, A Small Business Guide to Peak Performance Through People for more on hiring people who fit.
Make people accountable for living the culture. When someone in the organization acts counter-culturally, don’t miss the opportunity to coach and hold them accountable. Managers must be well-versed in addressing cultural issues and in providing feedback that keeps people on track. When appropriate, use the issue as a teachable moment for the whole team – always respecting the individual, but make it clear what you want to see more of.
Rinse and Repeat. Culture is not a “once and done” endeavor. It’s important to regularly assess organizational culture and make adjustments to re-communicate expectations. Make culture a topic of discussion at least monthly, and consider and annual or bi-annual formal assessment. A culture survey can be done in-house, but it might be more valuable to bring in a consultant with the expertise to not only conduct the survey objectively but to provide a detailed summary of what’s working well and where you should put your focus.
Having your company’s culture is critical to long-term success. A thriving culture creates a workplace of engaged employees who know why they’re on board, are committed to the company’s success, and are aware of the boundaries they are expected to work within. Culture is “seen” by clients. In a competitive marketplace, culture sets your organization apart from the competition, positively differentiating you when products and services may look alike.
Shaping culture means “the way we do things around here” fits with the organization’s mission and values in a way that leads to profitability and retention of both employees and customers. There’s a lot more to culture than is covered in this blog, but the 5 steps will get you started on the right path.