Leaders often ask me, “Something isn’t right with our employee engagement/morale. How do we fix it?” Culture-building is often misrepresented through costly tactical benefits that leaders ‘give’ their employees – perks, free lunches, and company-sponsored happy hours. Leaders believe their employees should ‘give back’ with stellar performance and get frustrated when execution fails despite these high-cost initiatives.
Companies often struggle with the ‘invisibility’ and ‘softness’ of culture, and therefore fail to harness the power of culture to drive strategy execution. In my 15+ years consulting, I’ve identified the 8 drivers that make up a company’s culture. So, if you’re not seeing the culture you desire, you need to evaluate the below aspects of your organization.
A quick note before I dive into the 8 Culture Drivers. The key here is to remember that culture change has nothing to do with changing the employees. Leaders too often blame the individuals on the team when things go wrong. If you want a culture that is more innovative, the solution is not to hire different, more innovative employees. We are operating under the assumption that your employees may actually be perfect, capable, and exactly what you want. If you want your culture to change, don’t start by changing the people. ‘Better’ people in the same environment may still perform poorly. As one of my favorite cultural experts, Sumantra Ghosal, likes to say, if you put good people against bad culture, the bad culture wins every time.
To change culture, we must change the 8 cultural drivers that inform employee behavior. This will lead to new behaviors from your employees, and therefore new outcomes which hopefully align with your strategy. Once you’ve adjusted the 8 influencers to align with your strategic objectives, behaviors will change. Only then can you clearly assess who is a good fit for your organization.
- The Organizational Design
The organizational design is the way your organization is structured. It is the foundation on which the standard operating procedures and strategic objectives are laid. Put another way, it is the formal map of roles and relationships in which individuals are distributed in the hierarchy. This design is both horizontal and vertical, which are the two key drivers in this category. The vertical and horizontal design of an organization influences culture because it influences how people behave with one another at each level.
This may seem pretty standard or obvious for most companies, but you’d be surprised at how many companies I’ve worked with that don’t have a clear org chart for their employees to see. Of course, it’s helpful to lay out the structure of each team so that new employees can learn about each department head and teammates. However, it’s important to continuously evaluate the org chart. Does one manager have too many direct reports? Do employees understand who they should go to for important decision making? Are everyone’s roles clear? Laying out the vertical hierarchy and reflecting on it will help establish how employees behave with each other across the board.
- The Leader (i.e. YOU)
You, the leader interested in culture change (regardless of what level you sit), have an influence on how all those who report into you (directly or indirectly) behave. You do this in two ways:
1) through your execution, or lack thereof, of your responsibilities to the entire organization you support and
2) through your responsibilities to the specific individuals who report directly into you.
- Responsibilities to the organization (succession planning, having team goals)
Each leader must be accountable to the entire organization that reports up through their chain of command. Your company culture can be poor without accountability and alignment. Are department leaders setting clear goals and expectations for their employees that tie into the larger organization’s strategy? Does everyone understand how their individual role contributes to the success of the team and the company? Furthermore, does each employee have the bandwidth to complete the responsibilities you’ve outlined?
- Responsibilities to the employees (feedback and problem resolution up and down)
Each leader is responsible for his/her direct reports. This includes managing down as well as advocating for directs by managing up. Employees want to feel supported and trusted by their managers. Are your employees receiving honest and constructive feedback when necessary? Moreover, is there a process in place for conflict resolution?
- Performance Drivers
Performance drivers are the incentives that will encourage the productivity and performance you hope to see from the employees on your team. These include the rewards and punishments that incentivize your employee’s motivation as well as performance management systems that will drive performance capabilities. Take a look at how individual success metrics are tied to compensation, bonuses, recognition, etc.
- Performance Management (performance appraisals, goals, etc.)
It sounds simple, but companies need to get employees with the right skill sets in the right roles. Leaders must evaluate their recruitment, onboarding, internal mobility, and performance appraisal systems, to name a few.
- Employee Enablement:
Employee enablement is the extent to which your employees have what they need to do the work you are asking of them. This means they have the resources, technology, infrastructure, tools, and information they need to do their job effectively. Without enablement, your employees could be highly capable but stuck in neutral. In order to unlock your employees’ full potential, make sure they are set up for success.
- Access to Information (communication and transparency strategy)
Finally, the access to information and communication strategy can impact your company’s culture. Is everything kept ‘hush-hush’ in the hallways, with rumors constantly circulating about the changes at the company? There should be a communication plan in place for important announcements, including the necessary level of transparency. Does the CEO speak with upper management, and then is upper management responsible for passing the information onto their teams? Without a knowledge-sharing plan, the organization may experience frequent miscommunication, confusion, or the lack of employee cohesion and morale.
After evaluating and modifying the 8 culture drivers, leaders can begin to make real changes in their employees’ behaviors. When all internal systems and processes are fully aligned with the desired culture, leaders will see accelerated performance and results.