Peter Drucker once stated that “culture eats strategy for breakfast.” I couldn’t agree more! As someone who has built a business and advises others on how to do the same, I have learned many valuable lessons about the importance of culture and how, whether good or bad, corporate culture has a direct impact on the health of an organization.
A 2017 article on Inc.com highlighted some of the benefits of a people-first culture. According to the article, culture-driven organizations experience the following:
- 26 percent fewer mistakes
- 22 percent higher productivity
- 41 percent lower absenteeism
- 30 percent stronger customer satisfaction than other businesses
In addition to these benefits above, an article in the Harvard Business Review states that employees that are engaged and inspired and more than two-times likely to recommend their company to friends for employment and those friends are three times more likely to be hired and to stay at the organization.
In my experience, many organizations give lip service to a strong corporate culture that puts their people first, but far fewer live it out on a daily basis. And while it is the responsibility of leadership to build that culture, the reality is everyone has a role to play.
When speaking of building a corporate culture, Glen Jackson, co-founder of Jackson Spalding in Atlanta and author of Preeeminence, What It Means and How to Sustain It, says “The leader is not the culture, everyone is. Culture thrives when the word is not used all the time but is lived out and exemplified effortlessly, every day, as folks actualize their potential and have large and small bonding traditions that create a true esprit des corps with everyone. Their light shines brightly externally and the cultural DNA permeates internally. While he is correct in stating that all employees have a role, the role of leadership in creating this approach is crucial.
The antithesis to what Jackson states are those leaders that speak this way, but act differently. I have seen numerous leaders who speak about their focus on building a strong people-focused culture and at the same time demean them in meetings, pass by them in the hallways with no acknowledgement of their presence, refer to employees as assets or resources, and demand that they be available late into the night and on weekends. These actions are detrimental to any organization and turn the idea of culture into a running joke.
In order for organizations to build a people-first culture, it must start there. With their people. Employees are not assets or resources; they feel, they have bad days, they have ideas, make mistakes, have emotions and the list goes on. Any organization that fails to see the humanity in their employees will never truly achieve a people-first organization.
Given that people are the starting point, here are a few other things that need to be considered in order to create a people-first culture and make them feel like humans and not resources.
- Define and Document Your Corporate Values
Corporate cultures that are sustainable are defined and guided by a set of documented values. These values are what define and shape the culture and how it will be a part of the corporate DNA. Every member of an organization should be able to discuss and live out these values continually.
- Enable & Equip Them To Live Out The Culture
In the first agency that I co-founded and ran for eleven years, culture was a big focus. However, in looking back we spent more time training on our approach, methodology and professional skills then we did on training around the culture.
It cannot be expected that just because someone hears about the culture or has even chosen to work at an organization because of the culture, they know how to be an ambassador for it in their daily interactions with their fellow employees and customers. If I had to do it again, I would train on culture first and skill set second.
- Reward The Culture
People who live out the culture is the best testament to it working and those people should be rewarded for doing so. As a customer of Southwest Airlines, I so appreciate when I am a beneficiary of their customer-first culture and know that they do all they can to instill this culture and reward their employees for exemplifying it – a very “people” thing to do!
I often used to tell our management team at my first agency, that we are in the “people business.” I meant our people. We needed to create a culture where they felt valued, appreciated and we recognized for their efforts. If we succeeded, we would succeed with our clients.
As humans, we all have a desire to be valued and appreciated. This goes for our professions as well. Organizations that want to succeed need to build long-lasting cultures that value their people and put them ahead of their strategy.
Written by Carlos Hidalgo.
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