March 27, 2017 By Brett Burden
How do the leading businesses create great company cultures that foster high levels of teamwork and peak performance? And how can we create the same levels within our own environments? When approaching these questions we tend to reflect on our personal business relationships, how we worked those out, where we fit into a team in the past (or didn’t fit in) and we remember the places where we truly did our best. Understandably we feel that our relationships are often developed by creation, moulding, listening, rather than by some form of predetermination.
Culture within a company is more about setting a group of behaviours from the outset, upfront, for the whole business to follow and to use in recruitment. People do have different personalities and as we have seen in previous One Week At A Time videos and discussion papers, people also have the ability to share and display similar traits and behaviours as well.
Set the opening and closing scenes
Company culture can be likened to setting the scene of a play. Ensure that when staff enter your arena, they have a clear set of parameters on how they need to perform their role for the whole production. This is in addition to the technical “to do list” of the job at hand.
Paint the picture, then hang it up everywhere
In an existing business developing what the culture will look like can be an exciting activity, and is better when it involves everyone across the business. For Business Leaders of all sizes as well as in start-ups, company culture starts with addressing the following:
- How do you want your business to feel?
- How would you like your business to be act like and be seen as?
- What are those keywords or “buzzwords” that you feel best express your business?
- Express in a paragraph, your company’s personality.
- Name five key behaviours that everyone in the business can strive to display.
For example a business may want to display behaviours that are synonymous with being warm, friendly, professional and always willing to step in (even if it’s outside of their core job). The way to achieve that outcome begins with a culture statement consisting of positive behaviours like:
- Openness - Openly communicating your own mistakes before criticising others (1)
- Encouragement - make the fault seen easy to correct (2)
- Respect - Treat everyone related to the/in the business with respect.
Or alternatively there may be a set of different words which are required to ignite organisational change such as (3):
- Trust - instilling it in every interaction and build shared experiences
- Conversation - overcome the fear of conflict - tough can be handled respectfully.
- Commitment - showing ongoing commitment to the team, project and the business
- Ownership - be accountable for each triumph and acknowledge setbacks.
- Focus - on relationships, on the project, on improving the business.
In culturally successful organisations, these buzzwords are developed and added into a everything that they do. From a Culture Statement provided at every induction, to a plaque displayed in reception and a statement put on the company website. It’s the heart of the organisation.
For Business Leaders who are sceptical of the value of Creating Culture, take a look at the leaders of organisation culture - Virgin Mobile. Their culture statement is:
Heart. Spirit. Collaboration. Imagination.
At the Virgin Australia Group, our people are passionate champions of better. We strive to do better every single day and we do it with heart, spirit, imagination and collaboration.
United by this purpose and these values, we can do things that most people would think impossible.
Our aim is that every person we come into contact with - our guests, our customers, our colleagues and the community - will feel and experience better based on the interactions we have with them.
The experience with Virgin Mobile is very much aligned to this statement. How do they do it? They include it in everything. Customer Service, Technical Support, their On Hold Message Voice, you name it. A critical area that their culture is displayed is in the recruitment of its people. Virgin recruit on the basis that newcomers develop (or already possess) these four key attributes. And that’s what we can do in our businesses. We may not have squillions in our budget like Virgin Mobile, but what we do have is the ability to choose our people wisely, develop those we have, and create a culture that reflects our shared values.
Drive down attrition
Turnover of staff in any business is an issue and in previous discussions we talked about the many reasons why people leave organisations. But let’s talk about what attracted them to the business in the first place. The culture of a business can be seen as a tribe that has been developed and it’s only natural that certain people will want to join that tribe with its many rituals. In the recruitment process, finding that new member in the selection discussion can include a question asking what they are be looking for in their working environment. After all they might be spending 8 hours of their day with you. An organisation which looks after its people through a positive culture has proven to keep staff turnover numbers very low (4). Events such as monthly team get-togethers, weekly sharing sessions, annual events, fun runs, charity events and other activities reflect the company culture gives those within it, many reasons to give back to the organisation.
Prevention rather than cure
Not all roads will be driven on smooth ground and most people will find an adjustment period or an ongoing issue which requires resolution. It may be that the person(s) involved are finding it hard to communicate, work with each other or overcome their differences. When a manager or senior person approaches an issue, there should be no surprises in how that issue will be handled. This is largely due to the additional safeguard where a business has included the expected cultural behaviours into the performance reviews, the conflict resolution process and every position description. Issues are commonplace in all organisations, but how they are managed through is a direct consequence of how the business has developed its culture.
If the expectations are set out in all areas of the business on an individual personal level your team will start to quickly self-manage and self-regulate in even the stickiest of situations.
Living the dream
After we have written down a set of expected behaviours, added them into PD’s, produced the world’s biggest poster for the staff room the true test of culture ultimately comes down to each person in our tribe. Are they living and breathing our words? Put simply, creating company culture means - saying how you’ll do it, and then….doing it.
1 Goldsmith M. (2007) What Got You Here Won’t Get You There. Hyperion. New York, USA. (p 114)
2 Carnegie, D. 1936, How to Win Friends and Influence People. Gallery Books. New York, America. (pp 161-166)
3 Lecioni, P. (2002). The Five Dysfunctions of a Team. Jossey-Bass. A Wiley Imprint. California, USA. (p188)
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