Driving results through culture

Corporate culture — an organization’s
personality — is the sum total of the
company’s values, attitudes, beliefs, behaviors and practices of its members. But
many managers may have just a vague view
of their organization’s culture and little background around how it came to be.

So how is corporate culture established in
most organizations?

“By default,” says Chris Edmonds, senior
consulting partner with The Ken Blanchard
Companies.® “And if organizational cultures
are created by default rather than intention,
you’ll likely have people who aren’t consistently behaving in ways that deliver high-quality solutions.”

Smart Business recently spoke with
Edmonds about how to assess your company’s culture and how you can transform culture if you’re willing to move away from seeing it as a soft and fuzzy, irrelevant concept.

Why is culture so important?

Our research and research by Jim Collins,
the Gallup Organization and others provides
abundant evidence that work forces with
engaged and accountable people deliver
strong customer loyalty, increased productivity and higher profitability and return for
shareholders. One of our culture change
clients, Banta Catalog, generated a 20 percent increase in employee passion, turnover
was cut by 50 percent and profitability
improved 36 percent in the first year of the
values alignment process. The creation of a
purposeful culture — one that holds employees accountable for exceeding performance
expectations while modeling the organization’s declared values — is critical for business leaders in today’s marketplace.

What are the ideal foundations and the realities of culture?

We talk about four foundations of culture,
including vision, purpose, values and strategies. Vision is what you are striving to
become and purpose is about what you are in
the business of doing. Values are what you
stand for and use as a guide for actions and
decisions, while strategies are your plan for
making your vision a reality while living your
purpose and your values.

Unfortunately, most organizational cultures
happen by default rather than by intention,
and the existing culture of an organization
can hold staff back from consistent high performance and strong engagement. Existing
practices can actually ensure delivery of mediocre performance and poor customer service, which cost companies money every day.

Where will leaders find soft spots in their
corporate culture?

Many organizations publish a mission statement and desired values, but values are not
measured or monitored with the same discipline and diligence as goal accomplishment
and performance. And culture often is
viewed by senior leaders as soft, not relevant
to performance and hard to put one’s hands
on. If you can’t measure culture, it is seen as
peripheral to core business operations. The
trick is, if you’re not getting what you want,
then it’s time to change those expectations.

How can culture be transformed?

First, you have to assess the issues with a
purposeful culture assessment. The assessment differentiates between current reality
and best practices, provides a snapshot of
current organizational systems and practices,
and it can be used as a gap reduction or
action planning tool.

After the assessment, you have to take
proactive steps and intentionally create a culture that allows the organization to differentiate itself from competitors, to really live its
values, and to really deliver on the promises
it makes for products and services. Most senior leaders have never experienced successful culture change. Far fewer have led successful culture change. Senior executives
and senior leadership teams must learn to
follow proven practices that fit their unique
environment and effectively manage obstacles and gain traction on the desired high-performance, values-aligned culture. The focus
is not to simply identify culture issues but to
map out strategies to address those gaps,
execute that strategy, and see demonstrable
improvement in performance.

What are the best culture transformation
practices and their outcomes?

First, senior management must embrace
and actively lead the change effort, and a
steering committee should be in place to
guide the change. You must ensure there is
involvement at all levels. It’s critical that all
staff members are held accountable for
demonstrating the new behaviors and rules,
and finally, continued communication about
the change and stories that reinforce the
effort must be in place.

The outcomes to these best practices are
numerous. Following the best practices creates involvement and buy-in for change
throughout the organization and creates
accountability for creating and sustaining the
culture. Next, it provides a vision that people
can relate to and increases organizational
alignment and focus. It also aligns performance expectations, values and rewards systems, and creates a sense of community and
pride. Finally, following best practices
demonstrates measurable gains in performance and passion and creates an environment in which even small changes can have
dramatic impact.

CHRIS EDMONDS is a senior consulting partner with The Ken Blanchard Companies in Escondido. Reach him at The Ken Blanchard
Companies Web site at www.kenblanchard.com/edmonds.