What does it mean and how can it bridge the gap between success and failure?
Do you want all your employees to be engaged and focussed? When employees finish work will they think of themselves as a number, only working to get a pay cheque, or an intrinsic valued member of their organisation? If so, how can we best achieve this for the benefit of everyone? The answer will inevitably be culture, so what is culture and can it be aligned?
Culture is about authentically knowing who you are and how you will evolve. If you fail to do this, you will lose employees, customers and your reputation to competitors who do. An organisations behaviours, values and attitudes need to be aligned in order to build Culture in the workplace. Culture is branding in itself; it may not just be your success that is measured but how you have achieved that success. What is your organisations purpose? What are the core values? How are decisions made? Organisations should not only communicate but also demonstrate who they are to both employees and customers, highlighting their uniqueness.
Effective culture must encompass every aspect of the organisation. Also, culture needs to be aligned with overall strategy. There are many examples of good culture by companies who have set out a clear purpose, set parameters for behaviours and values that employees embrace and understand, and by doing so aligned the culture that became more profitable than the product. For example: Starbucks was built on a relaxed customer focused atmosphere as its culture, rather than the excellence of its coffee.
After a large merger my company morphed in to a different organisation. The culture from the two companies was so different that some questioned whether it could even work. We would have to redefine our purpose and most definitely the uniqueness of the new organisation justifying the merger. Could we change the behaviours and values of employees? If so, how can it be done and with what tools? If we can get the culture aligned, surely the rest will follow.
BEHAVIOURS + VALUES x CONSISTENCY = CULTURE
To fully understand how to achieve cultural alignment, I have devised a 4-step checklist as a guide:
Step 1: Set the standard – The standard you walk past is the standard you accept and set.
When setting values and behaviours for the organisation they must be heartfelt and realistic. Good understanding of the current culture and what the desired changes will help bridge the gap required. A leader must be able to see through their own filters and seek external guidance if needed in order to fully understand all aspects of their culture. What type of culture do we want? What kind of people do we want to hire? How do we want to work as teams? How do we want to behave toward each other? These discussions will identify the core values.
After evaluating feedback from all levels and departments, it was clear we wanted a natural blend of both organisations. An innovative, friendly and professional approach to a working culture would suit our overall strategy. Regulations and practices would more often be agreed and evaluated rather than forced upon, a feeling of empowerment of all employees to be leaders themselves and adopt changes enabled buy-in and over time align the culture we wanted. We now need to set the conditions.
Step 2: Lead and they shall follow – The power of example.
Everyone accepts leading by example is the most effective way to be a role model and set standards. Organisations need good procedures and policies but to align the culture and vision they require underpinning. Even the CEO should adhere to the standards set by the organisation, it proves to employees they believe in the culture. This top down approach will allow the Leadership to control the narrative and drive the organisation forward. It will also empower others to adopt the culture, keeping others on the right track!
During the transitional phase morphing into a new organisation It was imperative that we as the Leadership Team (incl. CEO) did everything to set the standards by getting out and being seen by employees at every opportunity. We adopted the “Do what’s Right” attitude, not what is easy, and empowered others to do the same. Was the message getting through? A few gentle reminders will always be necessary but educating employees about the ‘why`, had lasting results. Being mindful that if you truly believe in the core values setting an example should not be a burden, it’s rather a lifestyle.
Step 3: Communicate – Messaging is key – Keep it Simple!
Continually communicating clearly by setting well-defined, prioritised and measured objectives is paramount to aligning individuals with culture. The lines of communication should freely flow forward and backwards and provide ready access to timely decision making between managers and employees, thus allocating resources wisely. But how do we know if the communication is working? Is the messaging aligned with the vision?
In my own organisation we chose to have meetings chaired jointly by the Leadership Team and Heads of Departments (HoD’s). This empowered departments to voice their particular concerns and help solve issues, or show authentic leadership by explaining ‘why` it was not possible. This created a more open and progressive working environment where people became comfortable sharing what works and what doesn’t. Also, this type of communication was invaluable in building trust throughout the organisation. It was imperative that leaders helped to educate all employees, discussing the vision and their role to play, often personally but occasionally using different media. A clear signal messaging was starting to have an effect was when individuals and teams adopted the same language and mimicked actions of the Leadership Team. Evolution is now taking place; we just need to keep it going.
“If you can’t explain it to a six-year-old, you don’t understand it yourself.” Albert Einstein
Step 4: Consistency – The winning ingredient in Cultural Alignment
Constant evaluation of the behaviours, values and vision will need to take place and be monitored to ensure Cultural alignment. Therefore, this is an ongoing evolving process, which needs to be consistently communicated to employees and customers alike. Are the people you have today, the right people for the future? If not, what’s the solution?
Everyone that is hired should be comfortable with the Culture and be aligned to the vision and strategy of the company (see blog – The “Right people in the right role”). This is essential during the onboarding process to align the right people, especially those in Leadership positions. Our Culture was aligning but we still had employees that favoured the old systems and procedures, even out-of-date logos! These were small indicators and when persistent indicated the need for personalities to change!!!
“For changes to be of any true value, they’ve got to be lasting and consistent.” Anthony Robbins
Be a competent leader and set the conditions by being an exemplar of the behaviours and standards of the organisation. Communicate early and listen to feedback, it’s a great temperature gauge for cultural alignment. Be consistent in the messaging and soon enough the behaviours and values become second nature, showcasing the organisation both internally to employees and externally to customers. Our culture aligned through strong Leadership who committed to developing culture aligned with our people and vision. We earned trust, defined, lived and understood new values which allowed change management to happen.