Reinforce your culture

ESTIMATED READING TIME – 5:15

Learning goals for this activity

– Understand why protecting your culture is important to talent optimization.
– Be able to list and describe the three steps to actively manage your culture.
– Describe what to consider when determining how frequently to measure your culture.
– Recognize some questions that will help you translate strategy into cultural attributes.
– Describe some ways to make a purposeful shift in your culture.

Why protecting your culture is important to talent optimization

It’s been said that “Culture eats strategy for breakfast.” When culture’s aligned with the business strategy, it acts as a catalyst for individual and collective productivity. But if left unmonitored and unmanaged, a toxic culture can develop and spread throughout the organization—zapping engagement and productivity and causing your high performers to jump ship. This is why culture must be actively managed over time.

Reinforce your culture by taking these four steps:

  1. Repeatedly communicate your cultural norms.
  2. Take action to address conflicting behaviors.
  3. Encourage employee recognition of culture champions.
  4. Reward desired behaviors to reinforce the culture you want.

1. Repeatedly communicate your cultural norms.

After you’ve intentionally and carefully designed the culture that best suits your organization’s strategy, it can be tempting to move on to the next pressing initiative. Doing that creates a risk that the culture movement was just another “flavor of the month.” It’s all too easy to neglect the long-term dedication needed to maintain the right culture—one that enhances employee performance and engagement.

To keep the importance of your organization’s culture front and center, take every opportunity to repeatedly communicate your intent to all employees. Look first at the practices you currently have in place. How could you add a cultural reminder to these? For example, if you have an “all hands” type live meeting, start with a reminder of the key cultural values that lead to success in your organization. Highlight a recent and relevant example. Regular employee communications such as a monthly e-newsletter or announcement may be another highly visible place to repeat your cultural values.

2. Take action to address conflicting behaviors.

Inevitably, you’ll see instances where an individual’s behavior runs counter to your company culture. If one of your cultural values is teamwork, an individual who acts in a self-serving way presents a significant threat to the collective welfare of the broader company. When this happens, act swiftly. Speak with this individual quickly, and if necessary, take more dire steps. Organizations that don’t confront these situations will send mixed messages to the broader organization and undermine performance and engagement as a result.

This situation can be particularly tricky if the offender is a high-profile individual. Star performing sales representatives, high-potential employees, and executives may all fall into this category. These situations challenge even the most committed talent optimizer. Despite the discomfort associated with addressing the problem, the broader business and organizational welfare needs to come first. Take action or prepare to address a much bigger problem later on.

3. Encourage employee recognition of culture champions.

Reinforcing culture is not only the job of senior executives or talent professionals. Employees have the most influence on cultural adherence. It’s important to create systems for all employees to recognize their teammates for demonstrating cultural values in the course of day-to-day operations. This has the two-fold benefit of broadcasting cultural values while encouraging other employees to follow suit to earn positive praise.

Create a highly visible forum for acknowledging culture champions and encourage all employees to share relevant examples of people who live your company values. Consider giving out a monthly or quarterly culture award to a recipient who’s determined by employees—not just senior leaders. These small efforts reinforce the desired culture throughout the organization and ensure its staying power.

4. Reward desired behaviors to reinforce the culture you want.

You can shape your culture and correct any violations or inconsistencies by determining what behaviors should be recognized, rewarded, and celebrated. These are the behaviors that will shape your culture.

In the area of culture, less is more. Employees can only respond to so many prompts. This means that when you put more emphasis on a particular behavior you’ll have to simultaneously de-emphasize the opposite behavior. It also means you should shape your culture one or two behaviors at a time, no more. The message you’re sending needs to be extremely clear and simple.

Here are a few ways you can reward your culture to reinforce it:

  • Training (job specific)
  • Career development
  • Internal promotions
  • Reward/recognition/performance system
  • Role modeling by leaders and managers

For example, if you need to realign your culture to support a strategy that’s focused on increasing quality and predictability, you can:

  • Train your employees in process, discipline, and systems thinking
  • Develop career paths designed to build proficiency with the processes and functions that are most involved in quality control outcomes
  • Promote individuals who exhibit the behaviors that aligned with the cultural traits you want to spread
  • Reward employees who behave according to the cultural attributes you want to foster
  • Make sure that you and other leaders up and down the organization are role models and set clear expectations

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