How to fix a broken company culture

Workplace culture is getting a great deal of attention as the market works free from the grip of recession. Hiring is on the uptick and employers are pitted against each other in a competition for top talent. Millennials and Gen Y workers, however, have peculiar interests. They’d rather have a great work environment than a bigger paycheck. As companies look to acquire the best and brightest — and retain their most valuable employees — they’re busy on social media and their own websites hyping their culture and all its appeal.

What if your culture is not well defined and candidates and employees can’t relate to the organization’s higher purpose? Can you draw in the talent you need when your current employees are disengaged?

“When a company is experiencing lack of clarity and purpose, it’s often because executives have not operationalized their corporate values, which are the building blocks of any culture,” says Midge Streeter, talent management consultant at Sequent.

“Culture cannot be mandated, dictated, controlled or replicated. It can be created, shaped and sustained, but there has to be a means to do that, such as a collaborative leadership mindset, an effective framework of change and leadership that is willing to engage employees. It’s not an easy thing for senior leaders to do.”

Smart Business spoke with Streeter about how to fix a broken culture.

How does a company get its workforce back on track after its culture has been negatively impacted?

Senior leaders must understand that it’s their role to shape culture. They must deliberately set a clear and compelling purpose for themselves and the company coupled with a strong business rationale.

Take inventory of what’s important, what needs to be changed and come away with a compelling purpose that can inspire the company to get its culture back on track. This needs to be supported with resources and a systematic execution plan, which gives employees something to get aligned to.

An important part of changing culture is personal change. People need to unfreeze their existing habits. With clear vision and purpose, management and employees can determine what they need to do different to align with the vision of leadership. This has to happen on an emotional level.

Executives need to be clear on the ‘from’ and ‘to’ of the journey. They need to paint a picture of the problem, the way out of it and the end result. Executives also must sell the result to get everybody on-board. This creates the energy and momentum to get employees engaged and back on track.

What if an executive’s idea of what the culture should be doesn’t match with the personalities in the organization?

Executives whose idea of culture doesn’t gel with the concept held by their company won’t last long. A company may go through multiple changes at the top before it finds a leader who can get the troops engaged.

Department managers, or those folks in middle, are champions for change. Their mindset must be aligned to the vision and priorities that senior leadership has defined. Executives, however, need to help direct reports manage change and coach them along the journey. Otherwise a middle manager’s under preparedness can be a barrier to success.

What are the steps to establishing the right company culture?

Once a company’s values are in place it needs to operationalize those values. A variety of activities can help in this regard, such as applying those values to the recruiting and orientation of employees.

To bring those values alive, companies need to ask behavioral questions to determine if a candidate’s values match those of the organization. Once an employee is hired and in place, his or her orientation has to cover what those values look like inside the company and how they’re reflected in employee behavior.

Another area to explore is performance management. That system should hold people accountable for their work based on understanding those values. Awards and recognition can go a long way to reinforcing behaviors that are in alignment.

If there’s any doubt on the part of a leader as to whether folks are committed to corporate values, ask. These conversations can provide valuable feedback.

Insights HR Consulting is brought to you by Sequent