When investigating how an organization functions efficiently and successfully there are two core components that make up the overall ethos: strategy and culture. Strategy is the cold, more clear cut of the two. Strategy makes up the numbers, the goals, and the measurable outcomes. Culture is more difficult to define but it is, essentially, what makes the organization what it is. It’s what the organization holds close to its heart, its approach to reaching its goals, its values, its beliefs, and how the people within it communicate and consider each other.
Bearing this in mind, it’s obvious to see that strategy has been the focus of most leadership teams. No doubt because in the majority of boardrooms across the world people want the facts. They want profit and loss. They want statistics. Strategy delivers this.
It is, however, just as evident that culture is as intrinsically linked with leadership as strategy is. Culture is harder for leadership to prioritize and act on because their gaze is typically focused on the external, and culture work is most often, internal. It takes a bit of soul searching to consider the culture of an organization. And that’s not always a pleasant experience.
Whenever a startup launches, it also launches its culture. This is, naturally, directly linked to the culture and mindset of the founders. They lay out the organizational values, they present a mindset, and when they begin to bring in outsiders as their staff, they naturally expect them to follow their culture too. Ideally, as the organization develops and grows, the very best leaders take a look from the outside, understand, and then implement culture shifts as and when required.
The above is a best-case scenario, however, it’s not often the case. In most organizations culture is de-prioritized at best and at worst relegated to a quickly hashed together page on the website broadcasting values and maybe mentioned once during a quarterly meeting with the slightest regard. Can we blame people? Not really. The world of work prioritizes goals and strategy in pursuit of profits. But consider this, it is regularly seen that, when an organization that was previously doing well fails, it’s often because the culture has crashed rather than the strategy.
Culture might seem like some ethereal beast that can’t be tamed and managed. That isn’t the case. The first step is diagnosing the culture within the organization. Once that step is complete and a culture identified, it’s time for a good old-fashioned strength and weakness test. Ask questions. “How will this culture help us achieve our goals and push us forward?” “What potential barriers could our existing culture cause as we pursue our goals?”
The Strategy Of Culture
The culture of an organization, no matter the size, shape, or makeup comes down to the people. It's the attitudes, the behaviors, and the manner in which they portray themselves and their work. Much of corporate and organizational culture comes directly from leadership. The behaviors that are accepted, refuted, enjoyed or disliked. The key is aligning leadership practices with the personal preferences of the people that work within it. Doing so leads to a driven, motivated, and energized workforce that wants the organization to succeed.
This culture isn’t a static set of rules. It should be able to adapt based on the people within it, it should grow and change as the organization grows and changes. Leadership will have their suggested culture, but if employees have a different ideas, then these two approaches should blend and develop a new culture suitable for all.
Culture is, by very definition, a shared state. A single person has a personality or set of morals but does not have a culture. Rather a group of people, a company or organization, a society, have cultures. This is precisely why culture cannot be dictated, it must come from a shared set of beliefs and accepted norms.
Strategy evolves based on current goals. A strategy that may work for one project, may not for another. Typically, organizational strategy might stay broadly the same but individual goals require individual strategies. Culture evolves too. It manifests across the organization in a seemingly natural, organic way. It’s almost the living and breathing element of the company, and that’s because it is, it’s the people within it. Once a culture is established, it tends to stay around. As new employees join they naturally want to fit in with the culture, not stick out, and be part of it. The new employees become part of the culture, perpetuate it, and therefore reinforce it.
Culture works this way because we, humans, understand it implicitly. We don’t even know we’re becoming part of it, but we are.
The 7 Core Factors of Culture™
The 7 Core Factors of Culture is a revolutionary way to measure the culture of your organization. It's based on extensive research by Dr. Zinta Byrne and has demonstrated success in increasing employee engagement. The 7 Core Factors of Culture are more than yardsticks to measure engagement levels within your organization. They are guideposts to help leadership teams take their organizations to a new level.
In order for organizations to reach new levels, your culture must shift. There will be early signs that a shift has taken place. You'll start to witness your team members’ body language and behavior change. They will share with you and others that things feel different. Contagious enthusiasm will spread like wildfire. No longer will going to work be a “got to” it’ll be a “get to.”
Here are the 7 factors:
“The Right Amount And Type Of Support.”
Resources are a foundational component of creating a thriving work culture. Yes, the physical tools required to complete a task at work are considered resources, however resources span far beyond just that. Here are some examples of other types of resources:
- Schedule flexibility
- Access to experts
- Additional teammates to carry the workload
- Guidance when stuck
- Co-worker knowledge
Management and leadership are also in a unique position to contribute resources in the work environment to influence culture. The resources at their disposal allow workers to undergo training, develop their careers, and even make work life easier. The trick is providing a culture where employees feel that they have everything they need in order to succeed and that there are no roadblocks that will hinder them from doing so. As well as coming from leaders, there are also less tangible resources such as giving workers space to work by themselves (see Trust), but also managing in a fair and supportive way.
“Efforts To Support Stress Management.”
Stress affects everyone. Yet, everyone deals with stress differently. Some thrive within a stressful environment whereas others are suffocated by it. A positive workplace culture will have means within it to allow employees to both manage their own stress as well as support them during the process. Here are a number of ways organizations can assist in lowering stress levels:
- Provide job autonomy
- Give consistent feedback
- Share your vision
- Thoughtful workplace design
- Equitable workload
- Job control
- Ensure voices are heard
- Right skills for the right job
- Attainable goals
- Stress management program
- Quiet areas
- Prevent unsustainable work hours
- Hire for hardiness or grit
Additionally, flexibility and autonomy go a long way in helping support stress management and even the chance to hand back work when the stress gets too much. These are all assets within the culture that encourage and develop employees. Creating a culture where stress is accepted and supported, will benefit the workplace, individuals themselves, and spill over to their homes.
“The Feeling Of Safety Your Team Has To Invest In Their Work Entirely.”
Organizations can only move at the speed of trust. Employees either trust leadership and each other, or they do not. Trust is, by definition, earnt, and so in order to have a culture of trust, there must be opportunities where trust is demonstrated and trust can be earned. The reciprocal nature of trust means that it often needs to be given in order to be received, and with organizations, this often means trusting employees in order for them to trust you. Here are ways organizations can increase trust:
- Create psychological safety
- Practice reciprocity
- Give praise
- Stop gossip
- Be consistent
- Give credit
- Be competent
- Share the big picture
- Give clear expectations
- Be honest
- Admit mistakes
- Demonstrate benevolent concern
A culture of trust demonstrates dependability and reliability whilst also providing a safe place for employees to work. It means that an organization is able to stick to its word, as well as an understanding that employees can be trusted to carry out the actual tasks required while upholding the company values and positively influencing the organization's culture.
“Building Deep Connections And Sharing A Compelling Vision.”
Leadership as a cultural factor focuses on how leadership is perceived and interacts with others. There is a balance, great leaders are able to keenly work that balance so that they are seen as strong, decisive, and inspirational, whilst also being caring, understanding, and empathetic. When working together with a strong leader, organizations flourish both in terms of strategic outcome, but also in employee satisfaction. Here are some ways leaders can increase in the area of leadership:
- Practice self-awareness
- Show genuine appreciation
- Express themselves well
- Be humble
- Be vulnerable
- Facilitate cooperation and teamwork
- Show individualized consideration for others
- Delegate and empower
- Manage conflict
- Be accessible
The best leadership cultures will forge deep personal connections with their employees. This, in turn, means that employees don’t feel as if they are just another number, rather they feel that they are a genuine part of the organization driving towards a common goal. A positive leadership culture also seeks to empower employees to complete goals in a way that adjusts for individualized preferences.
“The Ability To Have A Sense Of Purpose Within The Job.”
Humans naturally seek purpose. We need a reason to do something, especially in the world of work. One of the easiest paths to demotivation is drone-like tasks with no sense of purpose. Instead, creating a culture of meaning allows employees to build a sense of worth related to the tasks that they are carrying out, especially if the tasks directly benefit the greater overall goal.
Purpose and meaning don’t necessarily come from the completion of tasks though. It can, and arguably should come from a sense that the work they are carrying out makes a genuine difference and provides a positive benefit to the world at large. When united through common societal goals such as sustainability or altruism employees often find a sense of greater drive and a sense that they are contributing to a greater cause. Here are ways organizations can increase meaning:
- Encourage team members to enter "theta"
- Celebrate the peaks
- Make time for reflection
- Reinforce your organizations purpose
- Give meaningful work
- Treat people fairly
“Having And Cultivating Friendships At Work.”
One of the most natural human instincts is to make other human connections and find bonding friendships. Doing so at work is no different. A culture where people are provided with opportunities to make friends will create a happier, more enjoyable environment. It could be argued that one cannot force people to make friends, and that’s true, but if there is a culture where employees are able to be lighthearted, given opportunities to have fun, and management/leadership are able to manage with a sense of humor and light relief, then a more amiable culture is born.
The culture of connection also goes for connection between management and frontline workers, the expectation of civility and respect should be seen at all times. It’s quite clear that in a workplace whose culture imbibes incivility (harassment, negativity) engagement and motivation will suffer. This adds stress and detracts from the core focus. Whereas an inclusive and enjoyable environment promotes and encourages. Here are some ways organizations can increase in connection:
- Collaborate across silos
- Build a diverse equitable and inclusive workplace
- Go on quests
- Practice thoughtfulness
- Encourage mentoring relationships
- Provide quality and consistent communication
- Utilize signature strengths
“Team, Manager, Mission, And Vision Fit.”
In order for employees, managers, mission, and vision to truly work together there must be congruence between them. The vision and mission start at the launch of the company and, typically, lie with the founders. They are not, however, a fixed notion and should evolve as the company does. In order to achieve the mission and vision, a set of managers should be employed who understand and desire to enact the mission and vision. It then becomes the role of the management team to embody and role model the mission and vision so that their teams are enthused and motivated by it.
A large element of congruence comes down to the people. The hiring process must be robust enough to ensure that people brought into the company need appropriately fit with the organizational goals and culture. This might be that the employee meets certain ability or skill standards, but also, importantly, matches the culture of the organization. Here are ways to increase congruence:
- Make great hires
- Operate with integrity
- Prioritize critical activities
- Lead by example
- Align work hours based on employee needs
- Align technology with strategy
Culture starts from the top. Growing a winning culture is the easiest way to achieve long-term sustainable success.
- Strategy and culture go hand in hand, one cannot be achieved without the other.
- Prioritize culture improvement activities rather than stick to the status quo.
- Lean into the 7 Core Factors of Culture as guideposts.