Written by: Christopher H. McKinney Sr., Executive Contributor
Executive Contributors at Brainz Magazine are handpicked and invited to contribute because of their knowledge and valuable insight within their area of expertise.
Culture is the shadow government of any organization. Why? It does not matter what the company policies, bylaws, or core values state; culture is the official power that drives organizational actions and behaviors. The Harvard Business Review article "The Leader's Guide to Corporate Culture" says, "Culture is the tacit social order of an organization: It shapes attitudes and behaviors in wide-ranging and durable ways. Cultural norms define what is encouraged, discouraged, accepted, or rejected within a group."
For example, how many company handbooks state that dignity and respect are the standards? Yet, we see disrespect wantonly displayed by co-workers in plain sight of our senior leaders, and no one does or says anything. Or even worse, we see the behaviors exhibited by our executives. Similarly, when leaders champion the culture and hold others accountable for enhancing the cultural environment, the right behaviors and attitudes permeate the company.
But why is culture so critical? Culture is intangible, yet it significantly impacts client experience, employee engagement, and revenue. Growing evidence suggests companies can use culture as a strategic control to remain competitive. By developing the right culture, companies create thrilled customers and loyal employees, ultimately increasing their profitability. Culture can elevate your customer service to a level that makes you stand out. Culture either enhances or detracts from your brand.
So how do we create a "Fortune 500" Culture? It is not as hard as one may think.
Whether you have been in the seat for three years or three months, you must sit down and make an honest assessment of the culture. Do you see innovation? Do your various departments share freely? Is there a healthy conflict between your leaders? Do people readily help each other? Do you routinely receive reasoned dissent? If your answer is no to any of these, I encourage you to dig deeper. I also encourage you to get feedback from your staff. In the article "Crack The Culture Code," Brainz Executive Contributor Leah Tomlin writes, "Staff-generated data provides a powerful means to engage and get people on board the culture ship that's about to set sail.
What culture do you need to be competitive and thrive in your environment? What kind of culture do you need to become the go-to company in your field? What culture do you need to be the industry leader, commanding industry leader fees? Figure out what you need to become and put it on paper.
Make the tough calls
Once you have completed an assessment, you must make the tough calls, which means you will likely have to let go of some people who may be talented but are a terrible fit in your desired culture. These people gossip at the water cooler, disrespect peers intentionally, do not share information, get snarky with customers, etc. These individuals perceive they have power because they are subject matter experts. The more power the person perceives, the more job security they may think they have. They eventually can position themselves to put you in a chokehold. You are better off with someone who is a great cultural fit and teachable.
Know there will be resistance
Certain people will dig in their heels, flail, and scream bloody murder at the first sign of change. Expect it. They likely have been entrenched for a while and perceive they can outlast you as they have seen bosses come and go. They may make false complaints to anyone who will give them an audience. Know this in advance, and do NOT let the resistance deter you.
Resolve to do what is necessary
You may need to update your organizational structure. You may need to add a training line item to your annual budget. You may have to fire a dear friend. Whatever it is, you must be committed to doing what is necessary. Brainz Executive Contributor Sonja Denovski wrote in her article "Disrupting Leadership Culture," "There is no development if we settle for average. There is no improvement if we continue doing things the way we always did or just let the culture happen. If we wait for a severe crisis to introduce the change, this change will be forced upon us and probably will not have the desired outcome." Resolve to do what is necessary to obtain your desired outcomes driven by the culture.
Communicate, communicate, communicate
As the leader, you must over-communicate the vision for the culture change and what will transpire on the backend. Your people must hear your voice often. Once you start this endeavor, you attempt to undo a mindset that existed for many years before you. Rome was not built overnight, and neither was your current culture. You will have to work for weeks, months, and years to disassemble the present culture brick by brick and develop your desired culture. I encourage you not to hastily deconstruct the former culture as you may leave things intact that can turn into an Achilles Heel. Do not grow weary in fighting the good fight! Communicate, communicate, communicate!
Reward: Reinforce what you desire to see
Once the desired behaviors start occurring, it is imperative to reward these behaviors, which means you must look at the criteria for your official and unofficial recognition programs. You may need to revise the criteria or rename the program to be congruent with your desired culture. Congruency helps people to move. If you fail to align your reward system with your desired culture, people may not shift. Again, the article "The Leader's Guide to Corporate Culture" states, "When a company's structures, systems, and processes are aligned and support the aspirational culture and strategy, instigating new culture styles and behaviors will become far easier."
Courage: Hold the line
People may go to social media and say nasty untrue things about you. They may write ugly letters to your board of directors. They may even file a complaint with a watchdog. You may even have a few board members buy into the foolishness. Do NOT get distracted by the noise! If you know your actions are right, put your head down and keep plowing the field. In a book I co-authored, "Triumphant Transitions," it says, "Naysayers say… SO (what)!" Emotional Intelligence becomes critical at this juncture. You have to lean into the uncomfortable and do what is right because it is right.
Get ready for greatness
In the Harvard Business Review article "Proof That Positive Work Cultures Are More Productive," the authors posit, "When organizations develop positive, virtuous cultures, they achieve significantly higher levels of organizational effectiveness — including financial performance, customer satisfaction, productivity, and employee engagement." I know this to be true.
I do not know how long it will take for you, but if you stay persistent and consistent, you will see things turn. After 18 months of defining and sowing the new culture, I saw significant jumps in agility, collaboration, customer orientation, execution, innovation, integrity, and mutual respect. I had to chop some wood, hire some new people, and I definitely took a shelling of criticism, but the results made it worth it.
As a result, we completed some significant projects over four short years. The project I am most proud of involved being creative and leveraging CARES Act funds during the pandemic in a way no one else did. The project deployed Far-UVC Systems to disinfect 325 school buses, 72 cafeterias, and 72 schools' primary entrance way for six school districts at $0 cost to the districts. This was a $2.36 million investment to facilitate safe in-person learning for +33,000 rural kids. No one across the country had leveraged the technology to the scale we did in schools. Had we not changed the culture to see more collaboration and innovation, this
would not have been possible as it was a cross-department team effort.
Returning to my lead-in statement, "Culture is the shadow government of any organization."
Culture can work for your negative or your good. We saw the positive side. One innovative idea led to another. And one win led to the next win. I encourage you to do the arduous work as the results will make it worth it.
I genuinely hope this added value to you. If you are sitting there saying Chris, that sounds well and good, but I do not have time to do all the things you mention, I get it. As a leader, I understand you have a lot on your plate. My company 10X Leadership Consulting is poised to come alongside you to assist. Culture development is one of our strengths. I invite you to schedule a free consultation so we can explore the possibilities. Worst case scenario, I will offer you my best advice at no cost.
Click HERE to book a free consultation.
Also, if you are looking for a dynamic speaker for your event? Click HERE for a free consultation. I have spoken to thousands and inspired numerous audience types, from students to the military to senior executives to the workforce.
I wish you well in all your future endeavors!
Christopher H. McKinney Sr., Executive Contributor Brainz Magazine
"Chris is a person on a mission to help as many people as possible reach their full potential. His mindset is for his life to be at its fullest, others must release their gift(s) into the world. By releasing their gift(s), the world (his world) is made more complete.
Chris is a person on a mission to help as many people as possible reach their full potential. His mindset is for his life to be at its fullest, others must release their gift(s) into the world. By releasing their gift(s), the world (his world) is made more complete.
He strives to live his life by two mantras. “… leadership is relentless!” and “When you add value, you become invaluable.” Both were key beacons that helped him navigate and have highly successful careers in two different industries. Success for Chris is seeing people around him grow, evolve, and become effective when they gain a seat at the table.
Chris is also a co-author of the successful book “Triumphant Transitions”."