The culture of most organizations is described with words like innovative, transparent, high performing, diverse and inclusive, and collaborative. There is a long list of descriptive words, but saying the words is not enough to build the desired culture. Words define the culture, but the words must be backed up with action. Culture must be modeled, supported by leadership decision-making and nourished by the workforce. Building the desired culture begins with the CEO and senior leaders who ensure the culture can flourish on a foundation of support systems and effective leadership so that employees at all levels have the freedom to grow and contribute to organizational success without facing numerous barriers.
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Enabling Culture Building
Researchers at MITSloan identified how major companies rank across nine dimensions of corporate values driving culture, identified in 1.2 million Glassdoor reviews posted by employees. The nine dimensions identified by the Culture 500 project are agility, collaboration, customer, diversity, execution, innovation, integrity, performance and respect. As suspected, there are no two identical cultures because each company must develop the culture that best supports their mission and strategic goals.
Identifying the specific values of most importance to the company lays the foundation for building the desired culture. However, a foundation is only the beginning of the culture building process. The challenge is that culture is not something you can touch or create by running a software program. There are no buttons to push or levers to pull to make a culture. The culture building process begins with top management who identify the desired values for operation and then ensures the decisions made, employee resources, operational policies and procedures, and talent recruiting and talent selection processes are enablers of culture building.
Leaders at all levels also make sure employees know, understand and fit into the culture. However, Gallup research found that only 41 percent of U.S. employees know what differentiates the company from the competition and what the company stands for. This implies managers are not conveying the culture through their words and behaviors.
The best way to explain this point is through an example. A company decides two critical core values are collaboration and innovation. These two values often go hand-in-hand. Neither value is promoted if the company does not give employees autonomy, has frontline supervisors and middle managers who are not good at giving and receiving employee feedback, and discourages collaboration by failing to provide opportunities like an internal social media system. Management and the organization's websites may claim it has a culture of innovation and collaboration but makes decisions about processes, resources and people that undercuts its claims.
In another example, the C-suite executives send a message that it is focused on being a top-rated company for delivering the highest quality customer service. At the same time, the call center is understaffed or the staff members are not adequately trained. A company may embrace diversity in its mission statement and media materials, but the talent data indicates people of color and women earn high assessment scores and make it to an interview but are not usually hired. Employees witness the misalignment of what management says and what management does.
Real vs. Ideal Culture
Research reported in the Harvard Business Review article "The Wrong Ways to Strengthen Culture" says that culture begins at the top with leaders aligning what they say with what they do. In surveys, CEOs and Chief Human Resources Officers (CHROs) say that managing and improving culture is a top priority for talent management, yet the data does not back this up.
Companies spend an average of $2,200 per employee to improve culture but only 30 percent of CHROs believe the ROI is good.
There are a number of ways a company operates that determines the real versus desired culture. Important elements of culture building is developing leaders who make the right hiring decisions and holding managers responsible for their performance in the talent process. One of the important goals of using pre-hire assessments is identifying people who have the skills, personality and drive to perform in the job whether a contact center employee or a supervisor or manager.
It is up to top management to set strategies and provide the appropriate resources and operational processes needed to meet goals. From the top, the commitment flows downward through employee levels, but all along the way leadership behaviors, resources allocated, and the policies, processes and systems must reinforce the values and goals. The reality of the business must be in alignment with the ideal of culture.
Saying or Doing?
Culture does not form through random utterances of certain words and is not reinforced by random acts. You may say you value collaboration but never reward people for participation on project teams. You could say you value teamwork but only recognize individuals. The poster on the wall and the website state the company values innovation, but there is a torturous, time-consuming, lengthy process for sharing ideas with management.
You often say you value transparency but employees are not kept informed of the company's strategic goals. You claim you want to hire people who are a good culture fit, but do not assess for motivation or shared values. You tell employees their input is important, but you never ask for it through surveys or other information gathering tools.
There are companies where the CEO walks around and randomly talk to employees, invites employees to morning discussion/feedback sessions or personally responds to employee social media or email messages. Apple CEO Tim Cook and L'Oréal Group Chairman and CEO Jean-Paul Agon eat breakfast or lunch with employees in break rooms and company cafeteria. These CEOs are acting the way they want their organization's leaders and employees to act – sharing information and feedback, and collaborating.
Culture is Action
Hiring people at all levels of the organization who are most likely to contribute to the culture creates an exponential impact. Culture building starts at the top, but it needs the contributions of everyone to become a set of embedded values in everything the company does. Culture is not words. It is action.