You CAN Fix Corporate Culture
Recently, Harvard Business Review published an article called “Culture is Not the Culprit” by Jay W. Lorsch and Emily McTague. In the article, Lorsch and McTague assert that culture cannot be “fixed,” but only driven to change as a result of enacting new policies and procedures, such as decentralizing decision-making and refocusing on customer needs.
“But the corporate leaders we have interviewed . . . say that culture isn’t something you “fix.” Rather, in their experience, cultural change is what you get after you’ve put new processes or structures in place to tackle tough business challenges like reworking an outdated strategy or business model.” Jay W. Lorsch and Emily McTague, hbr.org
Twenty years of consulting and client care leads me to agree with the notion that a positive company culture evolves more thoroughly if the right structures and procedures are in place, but is that sufficient for achieving and fostering the desired company culture? No.
Group culture of any kind is the result of behaviors that normalize over time, as illustrated by these definitions of “culture” from BusinessDictionary.com:
o Culture is a pattern of responses that evolve during the group’s history of handling problems.
o The pattern becomes a correct way to think, feel and act, which is passed on to new members through immersion and/or teaching.
o Culture determines what is:
- Acceptable or unacceptable.
- Important or unimportant.
- Workable or unworkable.
- Right and wrong.
If culture is at least partially formed as a result of behaviors that are fostered and rewarded – for which we are all personally responsible in some measure – then I say yes, you can fix culture. Here’s how:
Be responsible for culture wherever you are in the organization.
With the most power to recognize and reward specific behaviors, leaders hold the most sway over a company’s culture. That said, any actions as an individual contributor can have a positive impact on the ecosystem in which you interact, causing a ripple effect that, particularly in large organizations, can create a positive and productive micro-culture, even within a more barren overall environment.
Personify desired culture in all your company interactions.
There are four specific areas that most influence culture in day-to-day activities and where behavioral change will be most impactful to the organizational culture:
- Language. How you say something is critical to establishing a positive culture. While the “7% Rule” inferred from experiments performed by UCLA professor Albert Mehrabian has been largely debunked, tone, body language and word choice does impact corporate culture more than what is actually said. Coarse language fosters coarse culture, while supportive language and respectful tones can encourage open discussion and healthy debate.
- The Company You Keep. The individuals you hire, promote, reward and hang out with ought to be examples of the culture you wish to foster. As a leader, are your key people the ones who provide you with candid opinions and build good relationships with the rest of the organization? As an individual contributor, are you having lunch with the doers or the complainers? Do your vendors simplify or complicate the company culture?
- Work Product. Doing a job well - and rewarding a job well done – is central to any successful business. Pride in the craft and work product is even more foundational to a solid corporate culture.
- Work Process. How you get your work done is integral to achieving a great work product as well as building a positive company culture. Are you gathering the input of others and making decisions when appropriate? Is work produced in a healthy and productive environment? Can you cede or take control of a situation when appropriate as per the requirements of your role? And, as a leader, have you clarified your team’s roles so that they are able to do so?
Identify the wrong and respond constructively.
Broken cultures can’t always be repaired with positive examples alone. Sometimes, it is be necessary to explicitly manage behavior that conflicts with the environment you’re trying to create. This should be done privately, using a specific example of the poor behavior and offering an example of an alternative, better choice in keeping with the culture you’re trying to foster.
In future posts, I’ll expand on the above-mentioned and additional topics related to company culture, which I consider essential to changing culture through personal example.
Gretchen Hover is the managing principal of Imbue Partners, LLC. Imbue Partners is an SBA-certified Woman Owned Small Business; a management consultancy that collaborates with clients to drive profitable and sustainable growth through strategic planning, organizational capability building and process improvement. Want to imbue your company with the culture to achieve marketing and sales excellence? Contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org or call + 1.978.887.9215.