Thinking things over

Joseph R. Zeno, President, ACS Industries

The primary function of any leader is to maximize organizational performance by engaging the full potential of its work force. Experience teaches there are core attributes essential to organizational performance and success. Vision rooted in market driven need and/or innovation, talented, cooperating professionals, a positive culture, values-based leadership, commitment and persistence are all key essentials. The most important of these attributes, however, is people — your human capital.

To move an organization forward in today’s hyper-competitive, ever-changing economy and to maximize the potential of human capital, the belief system and customs within which people labor must be perceived as positive, fair and productive.

This belief system is usually referred to as organizational culture. It is your DNA, so to speak, and a key driver of human engagement, enthusiasm and passion necessary to generate positive outcomes from sports teams to politics to businesses.

The most advantageous cultures are based upon positive value and belief systems that serve as a guide for individual and organizational behavior in every decision and action. This is not a garment put on at the office door. It is a life philosophy embraced every day both personally and professionally.

Cultures can be broadly defined as positive, promoting employee connection, innovation, growth and achievement; negative, which can disengage your stars, impair customer service and stifle innovation and growth; and dysfunctional, think Washington. These last two cultural states are inherently unstable conditions that complicate hiring, make it difficult to retain your stars and impede organizational growth and goal achievement.

A positive organizational culture, if it is not already in existence, should be a top organizational goal. To begin development, the message to the entire organization must be communicated clearly and be absolutely consistent over time. Improving your culture requires focus on two fronts.

First, the people you bring into the organization should share compatible values with your existing culture. This facilitates an easier transition into the work flow and work force. You improve your hiring prospects by selecting your interview questions and candidate evaluation process carefully and with specific purpose in mind. Ask key staff to conduct independent interviews. Do not compare notes during the process to avoid bias. Discuss all candidates at the conclusion and select the best by majority decision. Keeping your process collaborative reduces the potential of a hiring error, which can be costly in terms of time, money and disruption with respect to the entire organization.

Cultural development within an existing organization begins one step at a time, first by effectively communicating intent and then by the example set. A positive example is essential since that has a direct influence upon organizational behavior. So, cultural enhancement truly starts at the top. Begin by identifying positive, core values within your own belief system. If you are unsure, focus your development around customer service, employee growth and enrichment, safety, fairness, return on ownership capital, community involvement and environmental stewardship.

Be specific and consistent when defining your values and communicating your message. Practice what you preach. Communicate often and share your successes with the entire organization regularly by any means possible. Mentor your stars to become role models and cultural centers of influence. If you observe backsliding, use it as a teaching opportunity. Don’t overlook repeated backsliding, which can send the wrong message throughout the entire organization

Time invested in cultural development is a small price compared to the returns that can be gained. With consistent effort over time, your cultural compass becomes set as core values are internalized and behavior aligned and synonymous with those values.

It is only a positive culture that releases the true potential of the human spirit to foster innovation, create passion and enthusiasm, grow your best people and energize the organization for its long term vibrancy and success. It’s top down and it begins with you.

Joseph R. Zeno is president of ACS Industries. He was recognized as a visionary at the 2010 Innovation in Business Awards for his innovative approach to reshaping ACS, a manufacturer of couplers and attachment solutions. Reach him at [email protected]