Experience management firms such as Qualtrics are swimming in data, operationally and experientially, that attests to the impact of culture for both employees and customers.
These insights confirm detail we have seen in broader studies, such as the Duke’s Fuqua School of Business study reported in Forbes that showed that 90% of respondents understand that culture is important, yet only 15% believe the culture they are part of is where it needs to be.
When people feel they belong to a tribe they buy into traditions, legends, or constitutions, creating a continuance via essential knowledge transference and true collaboration. These principles that bond and keep an ethnological group together will work in your business.
There are four pillars critical to support the culture needed for your business to succeed, which are much like the sturdy walls supporting the mighty dome of the Pantheon in Rome.
These pillars will keep your culture stable as well as holding it aloft for all to admire. Should the pillars falter though, then it is likely competence or ethical execution of strategy risk crumbling with your culture.
Pillar 1: A Culture of Compliance & Process
Some people do not like playing by the rules. Even the Dalai Lama once said that “you’ve got to know what the rules are in order to break them properly.”
Yet when it comes to culture, despite everyone bringing their individuality, to the culture party, I do have to disagree on this one with His Holiness.
As an example, those who work or collaborate with the sales team of any business will likely have come across the high performing rock star, whose results may be phenomenal, yet their administrative errors can be equally stunning.
Technology can help efficiently enable compliance and diligence, whilst easing heavy admin loads, however the key here is having rules, ethics, policies and procedures in place and enforced, as they are a required bedrock for order.
Such structure will allow the seed of consistency to be birthed and without them chaos will reign, likely triggering ethos and strategy fails.
To keep this pillar stable you must keep processes relevant, ethically sound, and compliant to industry standards, without being excessively convoluted which cuffs you down.
Pillar 2: A Culture of Achievement.
For a culture of performance to thrive there is a need for clarity and aspiration at an individual, team and business level.
Personal accountability becomes imperative. A mechanism often overlooked are the basic tools of coaching, with your leaders needing to be armed with the skills to take conversations with their people into the territory of self-discovery, intrinsic drive and personal accountability.
A simple way to relate to the power of personal desire is relatable to a mundane goal in the home environment.
If your partner firmly directs you to take the garbage out, you may do so: perhaps muttering under breath or slightly grumpy. But when you decide for yourself it’s time to clear out the trash, you tend to do so with a more upbeat, assertive step in your stride.
A culture of performance helps people realise and then move towards goals that increase their results, skills and personal fulfillment. Conversely a heavy-handed approach which points to results alone is indicative of a performance culture pillar out of kilter, potentially negatively impacting the culture.
Yes, strive for results, but keep the personal drive, ambition and fulfilment of your staff in mind. Get that balance right and both your pillar and results will remain strong.
Pillar 3: A Culture of Continual Learning
In a digital age where information and ideas are generated faster than we (or even laws) can keep up, continual learning will help your business maintain culture and competitive advantage.
So, sit back and ask yourself which skills do you think you need to cultivate individually, at a team or leadership level, that will fit within your culture?
What you will quickly discover is that it is the skills, often referred to as ‘soft skills’ that are the ‘hard skills’ needed to deliver results for your business.
Take this contemplation a step further, picture yourself as a coach of a team who has been defeated by Brazil in a World Cup 3:1. You are asked to fix the problem with the team, yet you are not allowed to view the game.
Without being able to view the strategy, behaviors and actions at play, you will likely find the problem unsolvable as the score is merely a lagging indicator of everything else that has gone on in the game.
Numbers and results in business are the same as a sports score, without reviewing the strategy, behaviours and actions behind them, you cannot positively impact them through training your team on the skills they need to improve upon.
All too frequently when people are under the pump trying to reach aspirational targets or reacting to market challenges, learning (training and development) becomes a common sacrificial lamb slashed from the calendar.
Continual learning must always be as much a priority as targeted actions, as John F. Kennedy once said, “leadership and learning are indispensable to each other.”
Through inspiring a culture where people value their learning as much as their results, then your third pillar will stand as a critical support.
Pillar 4: A Unique Culture
Ask someone to highlight a corporate culture they perceive to be unique and you will frequently hear the usual overused suspects, disruption, and innovation reeled off.
Yet in our efforts to be unique we easily find ourselves essentially copying the ‘uniqueness’ that we have viewed in what we perceive to be creative and innovative environments.
The free sandwiches, or donuts on a Friday. The water bottle with your name on it. Wearing t-shirts and runners or working from home (a permanent unique fixture of 2020!)
Yes, these are cool, fun and except for WFH, pre-COVID examples of ‘uniqueness’.
Yet what these efforts to build a unique culture can put too much focus on the fun stuff, trading quality from your other pillars for the surface perception of a ‘street cred’ brand, which can quickly mimic a Hollywood set, where behind the great looking façade there is little substance.
Don’t be so busy hammering image, brand perception, flashy give always or Instagram pics to be perceived as a glass door business of choice that leaves aside the substance and depth of value.
Looking good and being good are not the same. Focus on the depth of character of your culture first, not the equivalent surface aesthetics or optics and the pillars supporting your culture will stand strong.
Written by Mark Carter.
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