How You’re Messing Up Your Company Culture — and 10 Things You Can Do About It

By    December 5, 2013

company cultureWhen it comes to company culture, a lot of employers are talking the talk but aren’t walking the walk.

Fortunately, that’s not the case here at SpareFoot, where we shout, not talk, and we run, not walk, regarding our company culture. This year alone, three separate programs have recognized SpareFoot as a top-notch employer. You don’t reach that point by having a crappy company culture.

In a recent global survey by management consulting giant Booz & Co., 84 percent of business executives, managers and employees agreed that company culture is key to business success. In fact, 60 percent of them ranked company culture higher than business strategy on the ladder of importance.

Yet 51 percent acknowledged their workplace cultures need a “major overhaul”—a finding that Booz & Co.’s Rutger von Post pinpointed as the “single biggest surprise” in the survey. On top of that, 45 percent of those surveyed said their company cultures are being mismanaged.

Put your money where your mouth is. If culture is important, make
 sure you invest in the initiatives that support that culture.
– Anese Cavanaugh, leadership and collaboration expert

Houston, we’ve got a company-culture problem.

“It seems clear that there’s a disconnect between what many companies say about culture and how much they attend to it,” Booz & Co. said.

OK, so we know about the disconnect. But how do we fix it? Booz & Co. and other experts offer these 10 suggestions.

1. Don’t Force Change.
Workplace psychologist Thomas Boyce, president and senior consultant at the Center for Behavioral Safety 
in San Carlos, CA, said employees embrace cultural change because they want to, not because they’re required to. Mandatory cultural changes don’t work, Boyce said.

“A 
strategy that meets the culture at its current point and uses the 
principles of behavioral science to inspire change will always produce a 
more robust and enduring change than one where employees are forced to
 adapt to the ‘new vision’,” Boyce said.

nurture company culture

2. Nurture the Culture.
A company culture must not only be established but also maintained and updated, according to Joe Albano, principal at Logika International LLC, a coaching and consulting firm in Carmel, IN.

“I’ve seen too many executives extol the virtues and values of culture, but then spend little time or effort supporting the culture they are trying to create,” Albano said. “A culture—‘the way we do things around here’—will emerge in the absence of care and attention, but it is unlikely that this culture will be a competitive differentiator.”

Ginny Hunter, the “happiness trailblazer” at Groopt Inc., a San Francisco company that creates databases for nonprofits, added: “I like to think of office culture as being similar to an office plant. If 
you’re not proactive in keeping it alive, then, of course, it will no longer exist. It provides oxygen, which is just as crucial to a human as culture 
is to an organization.”

3. Avoid the Blame Game.
If you need to retool your company culture, adopt the “no villains” rule, said Jim Morris, principal at Moementum Inc., a firm in Bend, OR, that helps companies improve their culture and leadership. In 
other words, he said, resist the urge to make comparisons with previous company cultures.

“Too 
frequently, organizations like to point the finger at a former CEO or the 
entire executive team as ‘the problem’ with the culture,” Morris said.

That attitude breeds distrust and fear for executives who at the helm now, he said.

“People generally
 do what they think is best both for themselves and the organization, and if 
the organization is under stress, its leaders may have not known how
 to help the culture,” Morris said.

job interview

4. Hire for Cultural Fit.
Taylor Aldredge is ambassador of buzz at Grasshopper in Needham, MA, whose technology enables people to run their businesses via cellphone. Aldredge said his company made the mistake a few years ago of hiring too many people who weren’t a cultural match. So co-founders Siamak Taghaddos and David Hauser “standardized” the company culture in hopes of stabilizing the staff and growing revenue, he said. The co-founders formalized Grasshopper’s core values under the acronym GARY:

  • Go Above and Beyond
  • Always Entrepreneurial
  • Radically Passionate
  • Your Team

“Once you have those values in place, you can start hiring people based on how they measure up to those core values,” Aldredge said. “They also influence our employee reviews each quarter by assessing how we performed on each value.”

Elle Kaplan, founding partner and CEO at investment management firm Lexion Capital Management LLC in New York City, said she asks job candidates questions like “What is your personal mission?”
or “How do you want your work to impact the world?” to ensure they’re a proper fit for her company’s customer- and ethics-focused culture.

Deborah Mills, a transformation strategist in Fairfax, VA, said that if an employee winds up not fitting into your culture, let that person go and hire a replacement who does fit well.

“Culture has one purpose in organizations, and that is to support business strategy and performance,” said Chris Groscurth, senior leadership and organizational development consultant with Gallup Strategic Consulting’s workforce practice. “However, culture doesn’t happen without the right people with the right talent. Talent is the best predictor of performance.”

5. Make an Investment.
“Put your money where your mouth is,” said Anese Cavanaugh, a leadership and collaboration expert in Rocklin, CA. “If culture is important, make
 sure you invest in the initiatives that support that culture.”

For instance, she said, if a 
health-oriented culture is prized at your company, fork over money for healthy food and 
activities.

tape measure6. Measure Strengths and Weaknesses.
One way to gauge your company’s cultural strengths and weaknesses: Regularly survey everyone at the company about what’s going well—and what’s not going so well. Then use the survey results to help change course, if needed.

“The best organizational culture initiatives start and end with rigorous scientific assessment and evaluation,” Gallup’s Groscurth said. “Knowing what to measure, how to measure it and how to connect culture with job performance is key to leveraging the power of culture and ensuring measurable return on cultural investment.”

Can’t afford an outside company to perform culture surveys? Use inexpensive survey tools like those offered by Google and SurveyMonkey.

7. Tell the Tale.
According to Booz & Co., pivotal stories of accomplishment circulate within strong company cultures, “often about the boldness of a leader or some decisive moment in the company’s history. These stories can be a source of pride and a natural way of reinforcing desired behaviors.”

Stephen Balzac, president of business coaching and consulting firm 7 Steps Ahead LLC in Stow, MA, said: “Culture … is not what people say but what they do. Culture is the stories of success that people repeat to one another.”

8. Realize the Power of Peers.
“Culture might start at the top, but it is reinforced at every level,” Booz & Co. said. “Having a peer point out the benefits of change, instead of an executive or manager, is very powerful and leads to improved behaviors that continue even when nobody is looking.”

letting your hair down

9. Let Your Hair Down.
While businesses should be concerned about their public image, that shouldn’t stop company leaders from helping their officemates let loose, said Jarrod Morgan, executive vice president at ProctorU, which oversees online exams.

“Don’t be afraid to let people peek behind the curtain a little,” Morgan said. “It’s OK for someone to 
see the real you as a company. Let them see you being silly behind the
 scenes. Let them know you have silly dress-up days or pets in the office.”

10. Get the Customers’ Point of View.
Internal problems are clearly visible to outsiders, said Joellyn “Joey” Sargent, principal at Claravon Consulting Group, a management consulting firm in Milton, GA. To uncover potential problems, talk with customers and review their feedback, or even listen to sales and support calls.

“What is being said—or
 not said—that indicates where the problems are?” Sargent said.

Top image courtesy of incedogroup.com

John is editor of The SpareFoot Blog. He first moved to Austin in 1999, when downtown Austin wasn't nearly as lively as it is today. John's loves include pizza, University of Kansas basketball and puns.

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