Developing a strong corporate culture through your attitudes and actions

If culture is so important, why aren’t more companies getting it right? Creating and maintaining a positive, unifying culture in the face of a fast-moving business environment is difficult. Even when leaders achieve a comprehensive, objective view of their company’s culture, it’s far from simple to effect change when needed.

In fact, culture is embedded in nearly everything — how employees see themselves, how they relate to customers, how they interact with authority, their approach to problem-solving and strategic decisions, how they describe the company’s purpose and more. Plus, the elements of corporate culture that helped an organization thrive can become liabilities as the business environment evolves.

Smart Business spoke with Marilee MacAskill, area manager at Dale Carnegie Training of Northeast Ohio, about how senior leaders can help create successful workplace cultures.

What are some challenges to maintaining an effective corporate culture?

A recent Dale Carnegie survey across India, Germany, Indonesia and the U.S. uncovered commonalities among senior leaders of companies with a strong corporate culture. These ‘culture champions’ cited pressure to increase productivity as the leading challenge to creating and maintaining a positive company culture, followed by workplace transparency, increasing employee mobility and more demanding employees. 

How does the attitude of senior leaders impact corporate culture?

While nearly all executives believe culture is a priority, culture champions are more likely to believe culture has a high impact on financial performance, is critical to reaching financial goals or makes a difference when it comes to engaging employees.

Nearly half of the culture champions surveyed said that middle managers or direct supervisors have the greatest impact on their company’s culture — as opposed to senior leaders or frontline employees. In addition, more than one-third believe they have room for improvement.

What actions are culture champions taking to improve their already strong culture?

Effective culture champions look for ways to continuously reinforce the elements that are helping the organization succeed, and to change those that are no longer productive as the competitive environment shifts. 

They are more likely to provide employee training, help create a strong customer focus, convey clear strategy and goals, and encourage strong relationships between employees and their managers. Their organizations more often succeed in establishing the necessary supportive processes and procedures that enable their people to affect these key areas in their daily work.

Some of the most valuable measures include providing developmental training, improving workplace conditions, offering more competitive pay and benefits, creating paths to career advancement and offering flexible work hours.

However, one area that even the best-in-class companies struggle with is creating and maintaining trust in senior leadership. It’s not unusual for well-intentioned companies to profess one set of values, while overlooking inconsistencies in their senior leaders’ decisions and behaviors.

What else should employers remember about corporate culture?

Even with attitudes in place, actions planned and involvement by leaders at every level, change efforts fail when companies overlook the importance of measuring their progress. Without tracking HR metrics or employee survey results to gauge progress, leaders can be misled into assuming that activity will bring the desired results.

If creating a high-performing and engaging corporate culture were easy, the business world would have tired long ago of its obsession with the topic. Given its impact on strategy, employee engagement and financial performance, corporate culture cannot be left unattended by senior leaders. Organizations are well-served to make it a priority, and while each company must navigate its own path toward cultural excellence, there is much to be gained by embracing the right attitudes and studying the successful actions of those who demonstrate an ability to get it right.

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