Corporate Culture by Design – Is It Really Possible?

Corporate Culture by Design – Is It Really Possible?

Have you ever heard someone, usually a senior manager, say, “We need to change the culture here?” People define culture in many different ways. Thus, many firms don’t know what they have, some don’t have what they want, and some don’t know what they want. How does something so seemingly amorphous get formed? More importantly, can you really design the culture you desire for your organization?

Every company has five culture influencers that strongly dictate the culture that arises.

#1 – The behavioral style of the CEO and senior leaders of the firm drives firm culture. Often times senior managers look the same, behaviorally, and people hired under them are their complement. These behavior style differences are the root of much cultural dysfunction. Managers don’t manage people to the individual’s own style but rather to and in the manager’s style. Managers often ask themselves and one another, “Why can’t they be like us?” Thus they manage accordingly, devaluing the differences and not taking advantage of the complement. Use this influencer to your advantage by understanding the profiles of people who work for you, by emphasizing the importance of complement and communicating it, and by creating teams to utilize all talents.

#2 – The communication process. While the staff says, “We don’t know what’s going on” management says, “All we do is communicate and push information out.” Communication styles are closely linked to behavior style. Understanding adult learning preferences – written, verbal, experiential, etc. – and the frequency of giving information are key determinants in quality communication. Breakdowns occur when internal messages vary from external. The problem compounds when employees learn what the firm is doing from others outside the company. Ask everyone in the firm: can you tell the firm’s story in three minutes or less? Enhance communication by asking employees what they think, know, and experience. Experiment with different forms of communication, and develop a company story and make sure everyone understands it.

#3 – The linkage between firm and employee goals. Employees should be motivated by aligning their goals with the company’s. Thus could someone recognize what your firm values are by looking at compensation structures? Do employees know if their performance is helping or hurting the firm? An outside observer should be able to gauge and assess the firm’s values and strategy by looking at individual goals. The keys are to be clear about the firm’s goals and then to be transparent along the way about progress and obstacles. Be sure to align performance objectives and compensation to the firm’s priorities and constantly check for understanding.

#4 – Decide if your firm will take a proactive or reactive approach to decision-making, firm “design,” and hiring practices. The former is a project planning approach involving visioning, planning, and continually communicating. The latter creates a fire drill culture with a more random focus. Proactive says, “We have and follow a process,” while reactive says, “We make up a process and focus on what we have to do today.” One is not necessarily better than the other as firms in different parts of their life cycle, or facing other exigencies, may want to be either proactive or reactive. Once again, the behavior style of senior leaders dictates the approach. Regardless of your choice, culture will be designed by how well you pick the “right” people to join your firm, define your strategy, and execute and communicate.

#5 – Culture will be designed by the clarity of roles, responsibilities, and accountabilities. Do all employees know where they fit in the firm? Do they know who the stakeholders for their function and position are? What they will be rewarded for? What distinguishes a mediocre performer from a top performer in this particular role? Is it easy…
…when work needs to be done, to know who should do it?
…to call a meeting and have the “right” people attend?
…to map out a process flow throughout the firm?
…to assign, without controversy, new projects and accountabilities?

Guide your culture by defining roles and dependencies clearly, making rewards and accountabilities clear, and giving employees plenty of feedback.

Culture is by design, whether deliberate or by default. It’s critically important to consider all five elements to ensure your culture yields the results you desire. Employees will follow the dictates of the culture. Be deliberate.