By Dan Schneider, Partner/Director, The Rawls Group
Every organization has a culture. It’s the collective personality of the people who represent you daily. As such, it’s a combination of logical and emotional behavior patterns that either draw people in or push them away, and it’s learned and transmitted through the formal and informal leaders that make your organization run like a well-oiled machine or cough and sputter from bell to bell.
In short, every culture has some appeal, some cracks, and some rough edges.
So, how do you patch the cracks and smooth the rough edges? You ask a few simple questions, you unfilter the responses, and you take actions that improve the alignment between what you want and what you reward
1) Have we (everyone in the organization) lost sight of our primary purpose?
Every position description should have your mission or purpose statement as its opening sentence. Sentence number two should be “Here’s how you do this if you have this job title.” Because position descriptions have been left to the legal field (I have a degree in legal studies) and the Human Resource professionals (I am one of those as well), most position descriptions are about risk management and political correctness.
As a result, people are often more concerned about activities than about results. When that happens, they stay busy; but they may not get anything done. The corrective action here is to make sure that you cover purpose and results first; and then you can go to the risk management part. Results and risk management are not mutually exclusive; we’ve just grown to think of them as incompatible.
2) What’s our identity?
The sense of identity begins in the interview process; carries on in selection, on-boarding, and retention processes; and receives daily reinforcement through formal and informal leaders of the organization. The message throughout is “Know you’re good and wear it well!”
In many organizations, informal leaders often have more influence and are more inspirational than formal leaders. Your informal leaders help build pride in the organization by bringing out a sense of excellence among their peers.
They are well-respected role models who know how to network and share information, and they can inspire others to adopt new systems, processes, and procedures.
3) How well do people know and relate to your guiding principles?
If there’s a problem in/with your culture, more than likely one of two things are going on that has a negative impact:
a. No one knows your values and beliefs; or,
b. There’s no connection between the values and beliefs and the way you do business daily.
Whether it’s “a” and/or “b”, neither is very good for the culture. If the problem is “a”, then make sure that formal and informal leaders carry the value/belief proposition for you. If the problem is “b”, then make sure the formal leaders are making decisions based on your values and principles. In our organization we do this by using a decision matrix that requires a positive answer to these questions (and in this order): Are we going to do some good? Are we going to have fun? Are we going to make money?
4) Can we deliver what we’re being asked to do?
Capability is something that shows up early in an engagement. In a relatively short period, clients determine the skill and competence of those involved in their projects. Competent levels of performance depend upon individual talent, organizational policies and procedures, and staff members’ overall approach to life and work in general.
Success in demonstrating competence depends on talent, attitudes, skills, knowledge, and style. Coaching and mentoring people for success requires having formal leaders who understand these attributes and know-how to coach and mentor success. Attitude and Style can overcome problems with Talent, Skills, and Knowledge; but Talent, Skills, and Knowledge can’t overcome poor Attitudes and/or a tone-deaf Style.
5) Does our behavior – what we do – confirm we have an effective work ethic?
We are all creatures of habit. Habits are so weak they cannot be felt until they become so strong that they cannot be broken. If the “so strong they cannot be broken habits” in your organization reflect your purpose, identity, guiding principles, and capabilities, then you’re in good shape. If not, then you’re out of alignment, and, sooner or later, you’re going to have problems.
To minimize those problems, tie your performance metrics to your values and beliefs. Doing so makes everything we’ve talked about up to this point relevant. If you don’t make behavior relevant, you won’t get what you want. No matter how many times and how loudly you repeat an irrelevant message, the message is still irrelevant.
6) Are our recognition and reward systems aligned with what we want?
Most people pay more attention to what others do than to what others say. One of the fundamental principles of psychology holds that rewarded behavior is repeated behavior. So, if you’re saying you want “x” and you’re rewarding “y,” then you’re probably going to get “y” type behavior. To paraphrase Dale Carnegie, praise others publicly at every opportunity – which means every time someone behaves in ways that are in alignment with the culture you want to have.
Once you’ve answered these questions, you’ll have a sense of cultural health. As for how to mend a broken culture, develop your answers to the questions above with these three thoughts in mind: What’s working? What’s not working as well as we would like? What can we do and what do we want to do differently?
Remember, you can’t avoid having a culture. How effectively that culture works, well, that’s up to you.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Dan Schneider is a Partner/Director of The Rawls Group, a business succession planning firm, and a Board member of the International Succession Planning AssociationTM (ISPA®.) Dan specializes in dealing with the issues that must be resolved by multi-unit franchisee owners to implement succession strategies geared towards building business value.