7 ways to build up corporate culture

Metrics, rituals, empowerment and growth hacks can all help build a high-performance environment
By Andrew Au
|Canadian HR Reporter|Last Updated: 04/02/2019
Corporate culture team
Building a work environment that fosters high-performance cognitive thinking is easier said than done. Credit: Pressmaster (Shutterstock)

Building great culture is difficult at the best of times. But combined with today’s need to address a business environment that’s constantly changing — from technological innovations and industry consolidation to shifting workplace demographics — building great culture becomes especially challenging.

As technologies like artificial intelligence evolve, aspects of people’s jobs will become automated. Robust data sets and mature algorithms will eliminate repeatable tasks from job descriptions. Roles will become more creative and strategic by nature.

Building a work environment that fosters high-performance cognitive thinking is easier said than done. It requires a fundamental change in the way we think about culture, shifting away from a solely strategic PR narrative to creating a profit-driving initiative.

Here are seven ways to evolve an organization’s culture:

Metricize culture: As leadership expert Robin Sharma famously said: “What gets measured gets improved.” Culture building is a journey. It’s a commitment to constant progression, which means clarifying where you are starting from. An important first step is measuring key culture indicators such as employee satisfaction, likelihood to recommend an employer, connection with core values and transparency. This can be done through a simple survey, while making sure to spend the time to ensure the right questions are being asked.

Establish rituals: For many organizations, building culture is like building a new muscle. If you are looking to see gains, it requires constant training. Culture development is a progressive process that builds momentum over time. It’s important that teams see this as a long-term strategy versus a fly-by-night idea the executive team was inspired by. One way to achieve consistency is to establish rituals. This could be an annual company retreat where teams are able to reflect and discuss the past year’s wins and losses. Or a quarterly “Ask Me Anything” event, where the CEO answers any question from any employee using a digital platform such as Slack, Teams or Yammer.

Manage change-resistor personalities: When executing change initiatives, people automatically think about budgets and timelines, and often forget the human element. At the end of the day, it’s about people, and these people need to be brought into “the change.” Each person has a natural change-resistor personality, which is rooted in fear. Whether that’s uncovering a past mistake, impacting compensation models or building dependency on others, it’s important to identify and resolve those fears in human ways. It’s also crucial to help the team understand the purpose of the change initiative, the intended impact and outcomes, and how they can personally own an element of the process.

Celebrate culturally aligned actions: When undergoing change initiatives, people often wait for the big quantitative gains before celebrating. After all, they want to see immediate results. Remember, change is hard and despite the optimism, people will fall off the wagon multiple times throughout the journey. To keep on track, stories can remind people why they’re changing and the anticipated impact of the change. Early in the change process, find small but meaningful examples of how the people on the team are acting out the newly defined (or invigorated) culture. And celebrate these stories proudly. While this may seem trivial, these sticky narratives are powerful reminders that can build momentum and propel change at scale.

Break down barriers: Silos can present significant roadblocks for organizational change. Some employees use silos, and the guise of process, to stall or stop change initiatives. They’re focused on individual accountability, not organizational accountability. To resolve this, try “skip a level” meetings, where employees have the opportunity to report directly to senior management who oversees their direct report. This creates more accountability within the organization, while also giving senior management direct visibility into what’s happening on the front line.

Empower middle management: An organization’s culture is not decided at the top — it is decided by the collective actions of employees. Often, middle management is the gatekeeper to successful change. Employees can feel disempowered by their boss’ attitude toward team culture. A more radical way of driving mid-management engagement is to allow employees to pick the leader they want to work for. This two-way evaluation process can drive management to become more empathetic of their team’s needs and more committed to improving their team’s culture. Uber’s two-way rating system has become a societal norm — let’s be bold enough to bring this into the workplace.

Growth hack the biggest problems: Across an organization, there are troves of insights that lie within employees. However, most organizational change initiatives are top-down directives that do not leverage these insights. To empower greater commitment to organizational change programs, it’s about involving teams early in strategic problem-solving and direction setting. One idea is taking a hackathon approach to solving the organization’s most important issues. Assemble teams internally across multiple divisions and challenge them to come up with solutions the executive team can build upon. An easier starting point to involving employee input is to enlist their support in naming organizational change initiatives. Simple actions such as these can give employees personal ownership over organizational priorities.

As a final thought, there is no magic pill for building great organizational culture — it comes with practice and training. So, get disciplined and get started.

Andrew Au is co-founder of Intercept in Toronto, a marketing consultancy  with a culture-as-a-service division, Tribe. For more information, visit www.tribexe.com.

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