Over the last few years, I’ve learned the best way to help clients improve their business performance for the long term is to determine their baseline culture and measure the toxicity within that culture. From there we can determine the route to sustainable growth.
My uncle only worked for two organizations in his career. The first was the United States Air Force, the second, IBM. He spent over 30 years working for IBM and retired very proud of the organization that he and others had served and helped build into a global powerhouse. Several years later, he saw the giant stumble and its stock plummet. Fortunately for my uncle and many others, a new CEO, Lou Gerstner, soon took the helm.
Mr. Gerstner was able to rally the company and bring it back to glory. He quickly came to the understanding that what was killing IBM was its very own culture. He miraculously changed IBM’s culture and, therefore, saved the company from the perilous course it had taken. To quote Mr. Gerstner on his view of culture;
“Culture isn’t just one aspect of the game; it is the game.”
He was able to stop the infighting and the breaking up of the operations. He mandated that everyone’s objectives be tied back to helping the company meet its goals and then wisely tied their compensation to that end. The rest is history.
So how can you ensure that you build the right culture in your organization? In my view, it’s simple, but that doesn’t mean it is easy.
First, define the core values that are to be exemplified throughout every individual and department in the organization. These are to be non-negotiable. Under no circumstance is it acceptable to waiver on any of these values. Every organization has values whether they are written down and communicated or not. In my organizations, I prefer that they are intentional.
Second, be gracious and go out of your way to say, thank you. Let your employees know when they are doing a good job and exemplifying your core values. Make it a habit of recognizing those core values in action and reward those behaviors. Individuals that don’t make a habit of exemplifying these values should not be promoted, given raises, or put in positions to oversee or be part of special projects.
Third, make it a priority to foster communication. Treat your employees as adults, not children. Be transparent. As Gerstner says,
“It’s about communication. It’s about honesty. It’s about treating people in the organization as deserving to know the facts. You don’t try to give them half the story. You don’t try to hide the story. You treat them as – as true equals, and you communicate and you communicate and communicate.”
Fourth, emphasize learning. At the center of a great culture is a zeal for broadening one’s knowledge, growing, discovering better ways to do things.
Finally, get good at hiring only those that fit within your culture. Make sure they point to examples in their experience where they exemplified the core values that your organization subscribes to.
Just like with a fine cotton dress shirt, the more cotton you put in the shirt, the better the shirt. The more intentional you are in defining your core values and rewarding those that exemplify them, the better your culture. Just as the finer cotton weaves a tighter more luxurious fabric, so it is with organizational culture.
If you would like to learn more about building the right culture in your organization and maximizing workforce contribution, please do not hesitate to reach out to me. We have various methods in improving Personal Leadership Effectiveness™, Team Dynamics and in conducting human capital screens.
I’m a lifetime learner, and would like to hear from you on the role you believe culture plays in your organization’s success.
Terry is Managing Partner at AmeriStride, a business growth, leadership development and performance management consulting firm. He serves as Chapter President of Truth@Work Chattanooga, a Christian business leader ministry. Terry focuses on helping business leaders create high-performance character driven organizations that continually learn, lead in their respective industry and last by obtaining a sustainable growth rate year after year. To learn more about Terry and AmeriStride, please visit AmeriStride.com or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.