Culture is much discussed in business. Numerous articles have been written on changing a culture, what is the right culture and how to fix a toxic culture, etc. I would venture to say it’s intrinsically understood that culture is a key driver in business activities, but would you consider it one of the top factors in your company’s success? I do.
I have experienced both positive and negative (unproductive is probably a better word) cultures. I’ve also seen the phrase “culture eats strategy for breakfast or lunch,” depending if you’ve read Peter Drucker’s or Curt Coffman and Kathie Sorensen’s books, come to life in an organization where the culture didn’t allow the strategy to be executed and actually eroded the business to some degree.
Why is culture so important?
Culture is at the heart of your company’s mission. If you want a successful business over time, setting and maintaining the culture must be one of your core strategies. Imagine trying to accomplish your company’s goals with a set plan of how you’ll get there and little knowledge as to why the goals were established or the plan’s purpose.
But who is responsible for setting the tone and keeping the culture alive? All of us. First and foremost, culture is set at the top. The only way it’s truly integrated into business activities is to ensure every employee not only understands the culture, but also wants to be a part of it and assists in preserving it.
We know every company has a type of culture. Some are serious, others more relaxed; some are hierarchical, others are inclusive — the list goes on. Whatever your culture, it’s important to ensure it is preserved.
Pieces to the puzzle
To maintain culture, and enhance success, leaders should embrace these steps:
1. Clearly define the culture and communicate it excessively.
2. Interview and hire employees you feel best fit the culture and embrace it.
3. Leadership must model the culture — not just talk about it, but also live it in daily activities and employee interactions.
4. Translate the culture into what it means for each employee in his or her daily work. Training programs should have examples of why we do things a certain way as it relates to culture, so employees understand its purpose in the company’s mission.
5. Leadership development programs need to focus on maintaining the culture in their roles and the supervision of employees, divisions, etc.
6. Design activities that highlight the culture and recognize people for contributions to it.
7. Monitor culture through casual conversations, formal strategy sessions and employee survey tools.
8. Communicate the culture through publications, social media, emails, etc.
9. Make it a priority to revisit the basics of why culture is important with leadership staff and adjust when necessary.
For those who think culture maintains itself without a clear focus or occasional adjustment, consider this quote from Jeremy Andrus, CEO of Traeger Grills, published in the Harvard Business Review, “Business success doesn’t lead to a positive culture. It’s the other way around.”
Susanne Cole is the president and CEO of Pressley Ridge. Since 1832, Pressley Ridge has helped rebuild communities and families who face difficult challenges and complex situations. From mental health and foster care services to residential treatment facilities and education for children with special needs, including autism and deafness, the nonprofit empowers 7,300 kids and families each year with the ability and confidence to succeed. Susanne has led Pressley Ridge since 2011.