A version of this article was first published in my HR column on Troy Media.
A few weeks ago I sat with a small group of business owners who wanted to talk about culture. For each of them, culture ranks as one of their key human resource worries - how to shift their culture in a meaningful way, or maintain a culture they see as critical to success. One of the advantages - and responsibilities - of being a business owner is that you have the final say on the culture in your organization.
What is culture?
Too often we talk about building culture as though it were a knob you turn. In fact, culture is an output - the observable manifestation of a myriad of factors that interact and coalesce to create a unique imprint. Inputs that shape culture include strategy, structure, decision-making rules, rewards, customers, values, who you hire, policies, mission, and so on. You can see culture in how your lobby is decorated, and you can feel it in how employees treat each other. It usually takes outsiders only a few words to describe the essence of your culture.
How do you influence culture?
I do not understand the mystique that surrounds culture change. To me, tackling culture requires the same approach you apply to any other business problem: What is your goal? Where are you now? What is your plan to close the gap? You begin with a vision for your culture. Then you take a hard look at what your culture is today. If there is a gap, you systematically look at the key inputs that shape and influence culture and assess which of these you need to address to get a different output. For example, if you envision an egalitarian culture where everyone has a voice, decision-making processes that include some and exclude others will not support your cultural vision. If you aspire to a culture of innovation, a reward system that punishes failure will quash that dream. The important thing is to look at all of the inputs that can shape culture and determine which are most critical to shaping the culture you want to build. Those are the ones you will want to target to align with your cultural vision. You also want to ensure your inputs are not in direct conflict and sending mixed messages. That only gets you the reputation of saying one thing and doing another.
Culture-building strategies that can save you time and money
There are six things you can do to fast-track your culture building efforts:
If you really want to drive change, don’t carry a megaphone
Stealth is vastly under-rated as a change management strategy. Contrary to popular belief, you don’t need to start with a mesmerizing communication program that tells employees what is wrong with them and how they must change. You need to start by doing things differently. Quietly, consistently, differently. Trust me, people will catch on.