"The blanket of culture covering an organization can make it a success or a failure."
Organizational culture is one of the most important factors defining the organization. It affects crucial activities such as productivity, employee engagement, and customer service. In simplistic terms, we can define culture as the way we do business around here. It also becomes the dominant influence on employee behavior. It impacts the image established by the organization. It's how the company carries out its affairs. It's an influence that one cannot ignore.
Many components create culture. Five such factors that have a significant impact on the type of culture that exists are (1) Values, (2) Beliefs, (3) Attitudes, (4) Policies, and (5) Expectations. As a leader, do you have an in-depth understanding of these five influences? Let's break down each so you can determine where your "culture" stands.
Values: I've found values to be the most significant component for culture creation. They are foundation builders. Our "top ten" values, once established, stay with us throughout our life. Their order of importance may shift but, absent a traumatic event, they hang around. Thus, it's essential to be clear about our values. When I train, I need clarity about the values of a client. It opens the door to identifying the training focus to develop. In your workplace, understanding the values present is a critical guidance tool. Knowing the values necessary to our customers makes building successful relationships easier. Congruent values also make it easy to develop outstanding employees and organizations. (Sound values and integrity are the congruency to seek.) In this situation, everyone is pulling in the same direction. When values are incongruent, there is trouble on the horizon. In this environment, the pull is in many directions that "fight" each other.
When hiring employees, look for an alignment to company values. Such alignment is paramount for the long-term success of the organization—the closer the values alignment, the better the employee participation. A wide gap can produce employee disillusionment. When misaligned, people will leave the company. Misalignment also causes disruptions affecting all facets of the culture.
Beliefs: Corporate values form beliefs. Beliefs are the foundation for the "thinking" exhibited by employees. In turn, those beliefs become the structure creating decision making. If the company has a strong customer focus, it's because they value their customers. Beliefs are important because they are what drives behavior. But there is an unstable component of beliefs. It's sometimes difficult to distinguish reality from non-reality issues. These difficulties can open the door for making wrong decisions arising from untruths. Dig deep for reality. Doing so helps to avoid a move in the wrong direction. Sometimes if your "gut" unveils the truth, we should not ignore it. Create trust, and the untruths diminish. No one said this would be easy!!
And, like values, there needs to be an alignment with the cultural beliefs. Incongruence is once again the enemy of employees and organizations.
Attitude: No one is born with an attitude. We learn and create attitudes with our thought processes. Thinking makes them so. We understand that positive attitudes are preferable to negative ones. But the workplace has and, in some cases, supports both. In an article written by George Root, III, he says this about attitude: Workplace attitudes affect every person in the organization, from the employees to the company owner. Attitudes help to develop the prevailing workplace environment that determines employee morale, productivity, and team-building abilities. Understanding how positive and negative attitudes affect a workplace is an essential tool in creating a harmonious workplace.
From Root's message, we can discern attitudes play a significant role in business success. They can make you. They can break you.
Now, I'm ready to do a bit of finger-pointing. I say leaders are the critical component for creating the right workplace attitude. Leader attitudes impact morale, productivity, and team building. Their influence is strong. Leadership is that powerful! An organization cannot afford to let the wrong kind of attitudes permeate its culture. Allowing this to occur is a potential death sentence for your business.
Policies: Organizational policies are the guidance tools to help maintain some sense of consistency. They provide the frame onto which to build the organizational house. Policies cannot be rigid and not able to change. But stability trumps perpetual policy upheavals. Policies provide a step-by-step process to do a work task. They offer the ability to measure results and the building blocks for process improvements.
I've managed corporate safety departments and taught safety practices. Safety policies are a vital factor sometimes overlooked in the workplace—this helps to maintain a safe work environment. And, sound policies to keep employees safe makes sense. No company can afford to ignore such policies. OSHA establishes workplace safety policies. Whatever policies regulate your industry, follow them. A failure to do so can result in the public persona of the culture being untrustworthy and unsafe.
Expectations: I define expectations as the type of "box" in which we perform our work. Expectations give a perimeter. They tell employees what their work outcomes need to be. They give focus to a task. Knowing the desired result makes it easier to bring expectations into reality.
Organizational expectations should start as part of an employee's orientation process. Expected behaviors cover a wide range of items employees must follow. Conversations in this area are ongoing. Managers must remind employees of expectations and provide the tools for their achievement. Exchanges make expectations clear. Clarity on expectations is an outcome that is not only achievable but awesome as well.
Creating the Culture
Understand all the components of culture form institutional habits. Controlling the habits practiced by employees can lead to a stronger organization. If corporate work habits run amuck, the chaos created weakens the organization. Successful organizations are willing to do what unsuccessful organizations refuse to do.
Controlling culture reduces cost and raises productivity. Further, employee engagement goes up, as does their commitment to serve customers. Alignment of the cultural components will produce a positive bottom line. Leaders must know what is happening in the organizational culture. Leaders must always be ready to re-align and re-focus employee efforts, a situation where ignorance is not bliss but bedlam. Disorder and disarray become the diets of the day, a menu no one needs to follow.
Determining the exact state of your organizational culture takes time, talent, and tenacity. Leaders help the shift to a winning culture by staying focused on the essential values, beliefs, and attitudes. They must be able to determine how their policies are affecting employee performance. The state of corporate efficiency and customer satisfaction are other vital factors. Leaders define their expectations and commitment to organizational success, an area where there can be no misunderstanding by any employee. It's an area, if managed well, that will prevent chaos from raising its ugly head.
When these "stars" align, profits grow, and your culture is now producing cash. Such alignment also hinders chaos from being an ever-present harmful component. Who wouldn't like that in their organization?