Whose responsibility is it to define and manage a company culture? How important is culture to the success of an organization? In the Navy SEAL teams, it’s absolutely critical. Our culture, mindset and behavioral norms fuel our ability to maintain our competitive advantages, remain agile and embrace constant change in volatile environments. The same applies in any business organization. A well-designed culture that aligns with the strategy and desired results is the bedrock of the most high-performance organizations in the world.
Initially, culture design or transformation must be a top down strategy. But it only starts there. Culture management should ideally be owned by everyone in the organization which means it must be integrated into everything: talent acquisition, onboarding, professional development, customer interactions, leading change and the rituals that fuel the beliefs and actions that drive results.
One of the first things a leader must consider when it comes to designing a culture is if the right people are in place to carry out the mission. Bad habits are hard to undo and toxic people are difficult to change. One of a leader’s many burdens of command is to make the tough decisions about who and what stays and goes when it comes to a culture change. As leaders, we get the attitudes and behaviors we tolerate – plain and simple.
True culture transformation involves a shift in mindset and behaviors across a company. This is no easy task to check off a list and it cannot be achieved by one person without the support of others. It’s a clear vision and the unification of a team under a leader’s guide that creates a company culture.
Roadmap for Change
With any design plan, there must be a roadmap or a mockup of what the final product looks like and the steps it will take to get there. In order to effectively implement change, a leader must outline a vision for the company, provide purpose and value, set expectations, communicate consistently, and demand accountability. What many leaders fail to realize is that culture shift happens towards the end of a transformation, not the beginning. New mechanisms, systems, processes and expectations must be in place before mindsets and behaviors transition towards the “new way” of approaching the business.
The first is defining – or redefining- the vision of the company. What does the company stand for at its core and what values does it commit to upholding? This must be identified as something employees can turn to when the culture begins to veer off track. They must be able to emotionally connect to the mission narrative. It serves as a check-in point, a guiding light, and a summation of what the company and culture are about.
The second factor is defining the “why.” Why is this culture change important? Why does it matter not only to the people who create it but the people who will be expected to abide by it? Without the why, the who, what, where, and how don’t matter because everyone will be following a different path. Rather than leading blindly, make the purpose known.
Setting expectations is also paramount for any culture change. How can someone know how they measure up if they don’t know what the expectations are? Many times companies think they’ve clearly defined expectations but don’t realize that they must be communicated again and again. When you set an expectation, there is no room for interpretation. It’s the standard of how things are done. Don’t leave the door open for interpretation.
A complement to clearly defined expectations is consistent communication. Poor communication is the downfall of many companies. There are multiple personalities working on multiple projects all at the same time. In order to find the rhythm of a well-oiled machine, it requires a commitment to communicating the vision and purpose of the company often. It requires check-ins when communication is failing. It calls for discipline when standards aren’t met.
This brings us to accountability. There cannot be a culture of greatness without accountability. Accountability is important to have at every stage, among every employee, and during every transition. When you have a team that’s not accountable, you run the risk of one bad apple spoiling the bunch. This happens quickly and will undo what could be months or even years of hard work. A culture focused on accountability has a measurable impact on performance, efficiency, morale, growth and profitability.
All of these factors must be demonstrated by leadership every day. If course correction is required, it needs to happen swiftly and with an understanding and examination of why it occurred in the first place. After all, leaders are human, too. They’re bound to have bad days that involve raw emotions and human error.
Leaders can use expectations, communication, and accountability as guiding points to gauge employees’ behaviors. If there is need for improvement in any of these areas, it could be part of a bigger tell to the company. And as I refer to in my bestselling book, TakingPoint, in this modern age of constant disruption, culture doesn’t just beat strategy, it must BE the strategy.
The Motivation Behind Culture Design
There are three dimensions to leadership credibility: Trustworthiness, Dynamism and Subject Matter Expertise. All three elements are critical when leading change as it relates to culture. In addition to implementing the action items a company can follow in order to affect change, a leader’s role is to be a motivator for the team. Someone who simply “gets the job done” is going to find the call for change to be a harder sell than someone who encourages, empowers, and inspires employees. These qualities are what helps to define a true leader.
With every obstacle, there is a win that can be celebrated that shows improvement or completion of a goal. It’s important to include these as part of the roadmap. Without them, people become burned out, resentful, and uninspired. It’s a fine balance of work and play, structure and spontaneity. On one hand, too much work and structure can create a culture of fear and boredom. On the other, too much play and spontaneity means inefficiency and ineffectiveness.
Skills can be taught. Education can be expanded upon. But providing these resources alone does not make for good leadership. They provide a strong foundation but it takes more to drive change and improve a culture. It’s a challenging undertaking to transform a culture, which means only the bravest and most dedicated leaders will be up to the task. As a leader, you have to decide if you have what it takes to see it through.