C-Suite Agenda

Strategically Building Organization Culture

Ernest R. Twigg Father

Strategic partners understand how essential a company’s culture is to success. Research illustrates that companies unable to build synergistic, functional cultures feel the sting of talent loss, increased employment cycles, and gaps in mission-essential roles. Now, more than ever, it is imperative to build a positive organizational culture to prevent a talent exodus, retain your best and brightest, and bridge the gap with effective succession.

But how does one go about strategic culture building? There are many methods, but I recommend building upon the initiatives your organization already has in place. From talent development to succession planning, leveraging your human capital areas prevents your organization from transforming into a toxic work environment. But the objective isn’t merely to survive; it is to thrive and outpace the competition. Therefore, it is essential to use predictive and prescriptive analytics to assess your company’s cultural initiatives because data is the force multiplier for empowering people.

Where to start? 

Prioritize your company’s mission-essential components and underscore the areas that statistically operate below the baseline. These are the areas that require the most attention. For example, let’s say your establishment’s turnover is at forty-five percent and costing your business millions. This turnover is crucial to correct for two reasons. Firstly, sourcing and staffing are mission-essential—no people equate to no production. Secondly, the cost of turnover is one of the highest margins of loss in the organization. An effective practice is to network with strategic leaders and pull exit interview data. Then, analyze trends appearing in the interviews and deeply drill into creating a plan that resolves the issues.

After conducting surveys at my workplace, we identified the number one reason mid-level managers left was feeling that leaders did not empower them. So, it was only logical to create an initiative that included mid-level team leaders in brainstorming sessions—this inclusivity plan successfully corrected the issue by giving the leaders a voice at the directors’ table. Strategically building a culture is all about empowerment.

Regardless of your organization’s issues, a vast amount of data is available from interviewing the people within or leaving your company. This information is gold because leaders can use it to create initiatives that resolve systemic problems. Collaborate cross-functionally with other areas when developing corrective action plans, including human resources or legal departments, to ensure that newly developed initiatives comply with Federal and state law. Once the corrective action is ready to be implemented, take a logical approach to apply the measures across the entire organizational structure, starting at the operating core, moving to mid-level management, and ending at the strategic apex.

Operating Core.

The operating core (OC) consists of your frontline employees at the heart of production. Whether it is assembly line workers or drivers, these employees’ needs are often the last to be considered in many organizations. That’s why I recommend emphasizing them by directing your first strategic cultural initiatives at your OC. Make the OC a priority and take action; the frontline will see the cultural shift, and impacts will be exponential. Ultimately, your workforce will appreciate your leadership for taking action.

One example we implemented was a competition for operators to innovate new, more effective procedures. We doubled down on recognizing innovation by compensating and awarding the winners. This initiative ignited critical thinking at the place of importance, the production line, where visibility by strategic leaders is limited. Within months, the quality of work improved ten-fold. By investing in the frontline with a strategic cultural initiative, our organization experienced a significant return on investment.

Mid-level Management. 

Your mid-level managers can either be future strategic leaders for your business or your competition; the choice is yours. By reviewing your succession planning, you can identify the influencers who will impact your workplace for the years to come. Naturally, investing in these heavy-hitters is an essential step in retaining top talent.

After assessing our mid-level managers, we identified the lack of growth opportunities as a significant trend. As a result, we implemented a leadership development initiative that exchanged our mid-level managers with ally companies to attend various leadership courses. On top of the apparent diplomatic relations gained with ally organizations, this investment acted as a reward to top-performing managers because it met their need to grow. Let’s face it, attending a conference and having the opportunity to learn what peers within the industry are doing is fun. When employees grow and have fun, people are willing to stay due to the climate your mid-level managers have established.

Strategic Apex.

Last but certainly not least is the C-suite. As the name implies, strategic culture-building starts at the apex of an organization. Your chiefs set the norms, accept the behaviors, and share the vision of what it means to be an employee at your business. Therefore, their vision statements must reach every level of the organization’s structure. I highly recommend revisiting your departments and assessing if your employees have access to your vision. Is it posted on a read-board? Perhaps on a share-drive? Can it be found in the breakroom? It is your responsibility to ensure employees have access to it and that it clearly articulates your vision.

That brings me to the next point. Writing a clear vision can be difficult; that’s why executives need to conduct a vision statement assessment. One mistake often made by executives is writing in an overly verbose manner. Contrary to popular belief, wordy vision statements do not make leaders appear more intelligent. Lengthy words work to muddle the message and confuse employees. Keep in mind when publishing your philosophy that less is better. Work to make your statement as concise as possible so that you do not lose its essence.

We use a vision statement refinement workshop at my organization, where leaders polish their message to perfection. Each department lead exchanges his or her statements and examines them for updates, inaccuracies, and clarity. The workshop works as a team to ensure the department’s priorities weave throughout the contents, and it remains authentic to our organization’s overarching mission statement. Once the session is complete, we revisit departments biannually and conduct a short ten-minute guided discussion over the essential tenants. If you haven’t said it in four months, you have never said it.

Building a positive workplace culture requires strategic partners to empower employees so that they can focus on their performance and avoid the distractions of toxicity. The best method to achieve this state is to build your organization’s culture strategically: analyze data, facilitate initiatives to correct the gaps, and apply them across all areas of your organization’s structure. After the initial corrective actions produce results, your company starts gaining inertia, and your people will be honored to be a part of your team. Together, you and your employees will outpace the competition.


Written by Ernest R. Twigg.

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Ernest R. Twigg
Ernest R. Twigg is an award-winning senior executive advisor, author, and speaker at 1st Battalion, 11th Marines. He leads 850 employees and has consulted c-suites across industries to unleash the leadership potential in their employees. Ernest's insight is sought after and is codified in his book "A Leader Provides" and various magazine articles that transcribes military leadership into private-sector gains. Ernest lives in California, where he spends his days playing chess and studying human performance, neuroscience, and leadership. Ernest R. Twigg is an opinion columnist for the CEOWORLD magazine. Follow him on LinkedIn.