When the culture within an organization has a strong foundation, it can survive the chaos and tumult that surrounding external factors may be inflicting. Culture supersedes a strategy because culture is grounded in the fabric of the organization. Strategy is typically for the short-term be that one year, five year, or even ten year plan; however, culture is for the life and long-term of a business or institution.
If you are a leader and are looking to sharpen your organization’s culture to keep it deep-seated in the DNA of what you stand for and do, here are four ways:
1. Beliefs – Make it very clear to everyone what are the organization’s beliefs. This should become a part of all communications from each level of leadership by online communications, written communications, and oral discussions. These beliefs should be communicated starting in the interview process and continue methodically forevermore through various media and meetings.
2. Language – How people communicate within an organization is very revealing of the culture. Language binds a group of people together. The use of jargon words internally creates a sense of belonging to a group. Titles such as team members, cast members, associates, frontline responders, etc. sends daily messages. Use of first names for all employees or usage of first name for President sends a message. Tolerance for curse words or no tolerance for curse words sends a message of the culture.
3. Behaviors – Clearly defined acceptable behaviors of how employees should treat customers, vendors, co-workers, and other departments must not only be communicated, but also role modeled from day one of the on-boarding process. Non-negotiable unaccepted behaviors must also be plainly defined so everyone understands exactly what will be forbidden. Consequences for the unaccepted behaviors need to be conveyed upfront so there is no waffling by leaders if negative behavior occurs as to what to do.
4. Traditions – Traditions give a sense of familiarity, belonging, and history. Milestones met, accomplishments, celebrations or holidays, are all opportunities to reinforce the culture. The tradition itself can be serious or light-hearted. For example, a local restaurant has a bell that the wait staff rings when someone receives a really large tip; in another example, a former company I worked with had the tradition at Thanksgiving for the CEO to hand out a turkey to every employee while thanking them for their work and contribution to the company. The symbolism of the turkey was also to thank the employee’s family for supporting the employee to be able to give their best to the company in their work every day.
Beliefs, behaviors, language, and traditions are all four ways a leader can cement the desired culture into the organization. The stronger the culture, the stronger the organization can withstand the outside factors that threaten its success.