The answers to the previous questions depend on your organizational culture. Organizational culture is the shared set of values and behaviors that distinguish the organization and its members. The members of an organization have similar behaviors because they share the same values and goals. This is not to say that every member acts exactly like every other member, but the actions each member takes will be supportive of the organization’s values and goals.
How do you establish organizational culture? There are actually many ways to look at the question, but the answer really lies in the actions of the organization’s leadership. Whatever culture the organization is trying to establish, the leadership must act to be the example of that culture and must work to support and reinforce the culture. Here are seven actions that leadership must take at a minimum to establish and maintain the culture:
1. Establish The Goals
People need goals. Organizations cannot be effective without goals, and those goals must be applicable to each and every person in the organization in order for each person to work effectively. People like to see the road ahead; it provides a feeling of stability and gives them needed direction. Uncertainty, on the other hand, kills organizations. If you don’t believe that, just look at any organization where it’s just been announced that layoffs will be occurring. Productivity drops dramatically, some people leave on their own, and morale…well, morale ceases to exist. Goals challenge, give stability, motivate, and inform people about what is important to the organization – if they are done properly. As the people in the organization understand and start responding to reach the goals, a mindset or “culture” forms in the organization. That’s how goals shape an organizational culture. Use goals and implement them for all positions.
2. Leadership Must Live The Expected Behaviors
The leadership team members are the evangelists of the organization. If you are a member of the leadership team (a first-line supervisor or CEO), you set the culture. You’re the example of it. Whether you like it or not, your actions and behavior are mimicked by the members of your organization. This is one of the most powerful ways that you develop and support the culture. In everything that you do, consider how your actions affect or provide an example of what you want the culture to be, because you can be sure that your people are watching, paying attention, and will emulate you behavior.
3. Build Systems To Reward Good Behavior
Does your bonus program reward behavior that reinforces the culture you’re trying to create? Do your supervisors provide good feedback to people who reflect the values that you want in your organization? If someone picks up litter in the front lobby, how do you recognize that? The leadership of your organization must have systems and processes – a method – available to them to reward the behavior that’s reflective of the culture you want to have. This is not just monetary, but also in praise, recognition, “organizational swag,” and immortalization. Yes, I said “immortalization.” The act of bestowing unending fame or recognition brings great rewards to the organization. You can do this by storytelling – discussing and documenting examples of desirable behavior in training. Imagine the loyalty and motivation you will develop in your organization if the people in your organization realize they will be recognized for their effort.
4. Build Systems To Prevent Undesirable Behavior
The best possible systems to prevent unwanted behavior include peer pressure. To be a part of an organization that you believe in is a great feeling; to be ostracized by it is devastating. If you can build a culture that includes self-policing and enforcing of favorable behaviors that reflect the desired culture, this is ideal. It takes time and use of all of the other actions to do this. One area that you can immediately make an impact in is to have all leadership team members learn to take action when unwanted behavior is observed, whenever it occurs – but remember always to praise in public and teach in private. Train the leadership team to go into a teachable moment exercise whenever unwanted behavior is observed. This action by leadership, if done correctly, will be mimicked by the general organization.
5. Tell Stories That Reflect And Reinforce Behavior
I mentioned storytelling as one of the methods available to leadership to reward behavior. But telling stories is also a great tool for highlighting and teaching behaviors that you want to exist in the culture. Stories are natural for people in organizations. We tell stories all the time. We tell people what we did on vacation, how last night’s date went, what a certain supervisor did; and we as leaders can learn to use stories to develop and maintain the culture. Stories with “happy endings” that examine how people overcame adversity to reach an organizational goal are especially great to tell. Stories of people giving great effort – whether they were successful or not – stories of the enthusiasm, the passion, the trials, and tribulations it took to accomplish great things are always good models of organizational culture and encourage your people to strive to achieve. Tell stories.
6. Hire People Whose Values Are The Same As The Organization’s Culture
One of the best ways to change organizational culture is to hire people that reflect the values of the culture you want. They live them and don’t have to “accept” or be taught or inspired to “adopt” them. It sounds simple, but finding people that fit the culture may take some time and effort beyond what you might expect. Make a list of the values and goals of your organizational culture and develop lines of inquiry that can determine if candidates have these attributes. Again, this is an oversimplification, but a good HR specialist or OD practitioner can be of great help in this area.
7. Find Ways To Remove People Who Will Not Conform Or Represent The Organization’s Culture
If people won’t change, and most of the time they won’t, you must find a way to remove them from the organization. This may seem harsh, but it is the best thing for both. Neither will be happy and, as the old saying goes, “It’s not the people that you fire that cause you the problems; it’s the people you don’t.”
While this list of actions is a good start, there are many more things that must be done to establish and support an organizational culture. The culture, or rather the example of it, must be considered with every action that leadership takes. Let me emphasize and reiterate that in order to firmly establish an organization’s culture, it must be considered in every action that leadership takes. Contrary to some popular beliefs that I’ve observed, leadership never has a day off. It is one of the truisms of organizational leadership. Leadership lives under the virtual microscope of public scrutiny, which can be a good thing if used for developing and supporting a change to the organizational culture. We will explore this in later blogs.