April 4, 2023

Culture in Everyday Business Language

Organizational culture has an enormous impact on employee engagement, customer retention, and business performance. There are many complex and sophisticated methods for analyzing organizational culture—I use some of them myself—but culture is an important business issue that all leaders should be able to discuss in everyday, normal-course, business language.

So, how can you do that? I am going to share a few key culture questions that make it easier for your leaders to assess, define, and improve culture. Because these questions are so simple and direct, and so obviously meaningful, you can use them to engage your leaders and employees in culture work.

What is Culture Work?

Just to get on the same page, culture work involves:

• Aligning individual and team goals with organizational objectives

• Aligning employee skills, values, attitudes, and behavior with the organization’s vision, strategy, and values

• Helping your employees be ready, willing, and able to implement strategy with purpose and heart

• Mobilizing your workforce to get the job done, i.e., generate value for stakeholders and compete and win in your chosen marketplace

It’s all about building a competitive advantage through people.

The Stakes are High

Research and experience show that the risks of not working on your culture are material, e.g.,

• Ending up with a culture you don’t want

• Poor employee engagement, performance, development, and retention

• Poor employee attitudes and behaviour, silos, turf wars, low trust

• Damages your ability to compete for talent, customers, and capital

It is extremely important for organizational culture to be an asset to your organization. And the most important people to engage in this work are your organization’s leaders—leaders at all levels—and even the employees themselves.

Culture Questions

Here are a few core culture questions in everyday business language. These questions will help you have more meaningful discussions with greater input from your organization’s talent—the very people who are living, breathing, and sustaining your culture.

1. What’s our focus this year (vision, strategy, targets, biggest opportunities)?

This is important context for all People and Culture work

2. How do we want to work together?

3. How do we want our leaders to treat our employees?

4. How do we want our employees to represent us out in the world?

5. Why would really talented people want to work for us?

6. What do we most want to hold our employees accountable for over the next 12-18 months?

7. Which employee skills and values will most drive, reinforce, and support our vision and strategy? And where is our biggest opportunity for improvement?

8. How are we going to help our teams maintain a strategic focus this year, i.e., a clear line of sight to purpose and strategy?

The decisions you make around these questions will have an enormous impact on the success of your business. And the discussions themselves are helpful in their own right. Discussing these questions collaboratively is part of the process of (i) learning how to do it well, and (ii) building trust and strong team bonds across your organization.

These discussions are real-world tough, of course, like every other aspect of your business. It takes time and dedication for everyone to learn to do it well—with skill, rigour, candour, and courage.

What Success Looks Like

How do you know if it’s working, i.e., if these discussions are generating value for your organization and its stakeholders?

Pay attention to both behavior and results: “Are we spending quality time on this, are we doing it well (skillfully), and is it generating results—are we getting what we want?”

A few key behaviours to look for:

• Our leaders are participating (engaged) in our culture discussions

• The quality of these discussion is good

     o      We are developing a common language and our discussions lead to action         

• Leaders are discussing culture more proactively, e.g., when planning and not just in after-action reviews (debriefing)

• Leaders are leading by example on desired culture standards

• Leaders are engaging their teams in culture work

 A few key results:

• Culture issues are being dealt with in a timely fashion:

       o      We are solving culture problems as they arise

       o      We are making targeted improvements in our culture

• Greater alignment around our culture needs, priorities, and plans

• Our culture projects are more efficient and effective

• Employee engagement scores reflect these improvements

• Improved reputation and customer engagement and retention

• Improved communication, teamwork, and trust

      o We are suffering fewer costs of poor teamwork, etc.

You can’t deal with all culture problems and opportunities at the same time. Picking a few priorities at the organizational level is crucial. Then rally your leadership team around those projects. It is equally important to help your leaders (at all levels) identify culture priorities at the team level, and then engage their teams in making those local culture improvements.

Advanture has exception tools you can use to engage your leaders in culture work and enable them to lead by example on People and Culture strategy.

Your organization’s big picture provides the context for that culture work, just as it does for your other business projects: they should all be aligned with vision, strategy, and core values. And each culture project can be judged on its own merits, generating visible results for your stakeholders.

What are your culture priorities for the year?

And what are you going to do about it?

Time for a culture-shift in your organization or on your team? Or for some continuous culture improvement? Let’s work together on fixing and optimizing your culture.

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