Friday, July 03, 2020

The Elements of Culture

We started this discussion a couple of weeks ago (WOW - June disappeared on me).

Let’s back up a minute and define what we mean by culture. I define culture as the values and habits of a group. Company culture is, therefore, the values and habits of a company’s employees. This sounds very simple, but there are many pieces to an intentional culture (as opposed to one that grows from the bottom up).

Values. The most important element is a set of agreed-upon values. In many ways, you see the values of my company culture reflected throughout my books and blogs. For example, I always say that we only work with people we like. Employees know what that means. They understand the implications it has on how we conduct business.

Your values could be written out. That’s never a bad idea. But don’t just jot down something that sounds good. If you’re going to write down your values, you need to spend time considering all the possible values you could have and narrowing down the list to the handful that are most important to you in your business.

Here’s the secret to understanding values: You can never hide your values because they show up in your behavior. For example, you can say you value open communication. But if everyone is afraid to disagree with the boss for fear they’ll be yelled at, that’s the actual value that’s being lived inside the company.

When I was the Site Manager for PC Software Support at HP’s Roseville, California plant, our section had a clear statement on the bottom of every form, every PowerPoint slide, and every memo: We place a high value on work-life balance. That is pretty unambiguous. 

So, when someone proposed bringing in a team on Sunday to tackle a job, every person in the section had the right to raise their hand and ask how that proposal was consistent with our stated focus on work-life balance. Note: That doesn’t mean we never worked on Sunday. But we did have the discussion in the context of the larger commitment.

Processes. Those who’ve read any of my books are now saying, “I was wondering how he was going to bring processes into this discussion.” The very simple truth is that you can never control people, but you can control your process. 

If you respect people, what is the process for them to have a public, open, safe disagreement about something? If you have a culture of friendliness, how do you work that into a tough schedule on tight deadlines?

We’ve all seen companies that do amazing work under difficult conditions. Understanding the culture that makes that possible always boils down to how they do it. How you do things is the definition of processes.

Processes allow you to standardize how people work together. They also bring consistency to all parts of your business. Whenever you answer a question that begins with “How do we,” you should write down the answer. That’s the beginning of your process.

Communications are also very important. To me, that is part of the process of culture building. You need to write down, agree on, and communicate these processes. And you should have a process for allowing feedback and discussions.

Team or Community. Your company can only start building an intentional culture once the members see themselves as part of the same team, community, or family. When people feel isolated, they cannot feel like part of the team.

Goals must include team goals. In my consulting companies, every single person had the following goal as the first goal on their quarterly goals and evaluation form:

Provide excellent technical support to our clients while contributing to
good relationships within [our company] and between us and our clients.

You can see the emphasis is on building relationships. Lots of stuff falls into the broad category of building relationships. It reflects our values and puts the relationship building at the top of what we expect from people.

You build your team in dozens – or hundreds – of ways. You need to keep culture in mind when hiring. You need to have meetings and get-togethers so the team members can get to know each other (individually and as a team).

In our hiring process, candidates are interviewed by the company president, their potential manger, and a few people they are working with. Everyone fills out the same evaluation form. One of the elements of that evaluation is “Good fit with our culture.” Whatever that means to the individual interviewers, it’s important that we all agree that someone will be a good fit. That’s part of maintaining and perpetuating our culture.

Once you begin to build the culture you want, you need to feed it and nurture it. You need to talk about it and everyone needs to hold everyone accountable for it.

Once you figure out exactly what you want your culture to look like (and this can take a long time), an interesting thing hap-pens: You just do it. You execute your values and your culture follows. Remember, you can’t hide your real values. So, once you’ve decided on a set of values and you begin living them, all the employees will see that.

If you value honesty, you’ll get honesty. If you value initiative, your employees will demonstrate initiative. If you value humor, you’ll find humor among your team members.

Whatever you decide to do with culture, you should talk openly about it. Eventually, you’ll see that your clients also see your culture. It will be reflected in how they are treated. They will see your honesty, integrity, and other values. Or whatever behavior reflects your real values.

Personally, I believe culture is the core of making a company truly reflect who you are and how you choose to show up in the world. 

I welcome any feedback you have.

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Check out my new book - The Absolutely Unbreakable Rules of Service Delivery . . . 

How can you guarantee that your company delivers great service, has a great culture, and still manages to stay profitable? You need to follow certain “Unbreakable Rules” for success. Best-selling business author and coach Karl W. Palachuk draws on more than twenty thirty years of owning and running service-based businesses to present the rules his companies live by.

Lots of details at . . . 


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