Many companies talk about changing their culture. They rarely understand what that even means, or what the goal of changing the culture. Before you approach this daunting task, ask a few key questions.
What is a corporate culture?
Corporate culture, according to Inc.com, refers to the shared values, attitudes, standards, and beliefs that characterize members of an organization and define its nature. Corporate culture is rooted in an organization’s goals, strategies, structure, and approaches to labor, customers, investors, and the greater community. I agree with that, it “refers to”, it is “rooted in”. It is rarely “defined by”.
Let’s go with that for the sake of this post. Next question is:
How do you measure your corporate culture?
Many people like to say they have a “great culture”. I love responding with a simple question, “Oh great, how do you measure your culture’s greatness?” I know it sounds like I’m being sarcastic, but I really want to know what metrics each company uses for a culture. It easily be measured by retention statistics, recruiting statistics, and speed of delivery of features/products. It should not be measure about attendance at a office party, how many people work late, or how many people get in early. The thing I have learned about metrics is when people understand the metrics, they will always game the system in their favor. “We are going to measure what time you get to work and what time you leave”. What will happen, people will be at work for ridiculous hours and not necessarily produce any more or less work, they will simply be present. By knowing about the metric, you have altered the metric. You can leverage this knowledge by letting people do what they do naturally. I’ll get to that in a bit.
What makes a “great” corporate culture?
I’m going to give the architect answer here. It depends. That is never more true as it is with culture. It depends on your teams/audience, your individual goals and motivations, and your corporation hiring / promotion process. That last one often confuses people, what does our promotion process have to do with our culture? It was obvious to me, but not as obvious to the one’s trying to change their culture. As an employee, if I don’t know how I am going to progress in my career, then why would I stay at a company with no path for me? That is a key component. I am also taking into a bias that I want to grow in my career. It is not always the case, which is why it is important to understand individual goals. Will throwing a foosball table make everyone happy in the office? Will free lunches matter? STOP! You are asking about solutions and you haven’t identified your problem. What is your problem? You may not need to change anything in your culture, just your staff. I know a hard conversation, but improving culture is not easy. One negative employee can do more damage than ten positive employees can help.
Gathering honest information is difficult
Gather information without leading questions. It is really difficult to get honest answers from employees. If a manager asks if you like your job, what are you going to say? “Of course, this place is amazing” and they go look for their next job that night. You have to build trust, truly put them in a safe environment. Empower them to make a change that they are in control of and you are simply facilitating for them. Good leaders direct, Great leaders support, Amazing leaders listen. There was a quote, “do a good deed and try not to get caught”. I feel that is how leadership should be also. Let the team be amazing and simply point them in a direction. They will often surprise you. Build that trust, and then ask, what would make this the best place you have ever worked? Provide them with a couple options that you are willing to implement. Don’t offer a 4-day work week if you aren’t willing to do that, or free lunches, or whatever. You need to be willing to implement that change, not in 6 months after 10 levels of approval 20 hours of meetings, but no later than the following week if not the next day. Which leads me to the next step.
Implement an actual change
Try it out. Try 4 day work weeks, or office closes early on Friday, or team lunches on Wednesday, whatever it is, Support it. Encourage it. You can’t work late and expect your employees to go home early. You can’t have a team lunch when you are at a client lunch. You want to be trusted and engaged with the team, then show up. Listen, you don’t have to be the center of attention, but you should be approachable. That will lead to the next step of getting feedback
You must be part of it. It is possible to build trust. It is really helpful when someone tells me they don’t like me for whatever reason. I talk with them about it and ask if I can improve. I listen to their opinion, I don’t defend myself, I listen. Implement that change and interact with the employees over the course of a few months and ask if they like the changes. Don’t interact in a team meeting, but in a 1:1 with people, if they want to bring a friend let them. It makes it easier to have support for them to face an authority figure.
Implement another change (or change a previous one)
This cycle will continue as you watch your culture slowly evolve into the desired result. You will have employees recruiting for you. You will have employees excited about the direction of the company and over time, you will have the best company that they have ever worked at.
This is not an overnight process, it takes months to implement. You will have people leave who want to leave. You will have to let people go who aren’t producing. You will need to change your hiring process to make sure the team is involved and they are part of the decision. You can only build a strong team, environment, company when people feel empowered to make a change they see is needed. Provide opportunities for growth, for support, and for life outside of work.
I hope this helps a few people as they approach a “cultural transformation”. If I can help facilitate, let me know. I love making places people love to work. Work can be fun in any industry if the people are that amazing.
Also published on Medium.