Everyday on Linkedin I see inspiring quotes from well know leaders and innovators. They are usually simple statements that serve as a reminder of how we tend to create unnecessary complexity in our lives. The other day I stumbled across one of those quotes that I found quite thought provoking:

“There’s no magic formula for great company culture. The key is to just treat your staff how you would like to be treated”

– Richard Branson

Sounds great, right? The statement makes sense and it is simple. We were all taught this as children so it should be easy to apply it in the corporate world. I mean Richard Branson is one of the most influential business leaders in the world with more than 9 million followers on Linkedin alone. In fact, by the time I read it more than 4,000 people felt inspired and had already shared it. This could be a simple fix to a huge problem plaguing companies today. If only it were that simple. The issue I have with this statement is it will only work in the rare situation that you are the only person in your company influencing culture. In most cases, your company will have various people including senior leaders, management, employees, even consultants contributing to the shape of your culture. Policies, processes and customers will have an impact as well. We must also consider the fact that different people often have different views on what constitutes treating people well. People have different expectations based on personality, experience, and motivation. Also keep in mind that the CEO’s behaviour does not always influence how other leaders and managers in the organization will treat their teams. I have seen some companies with fantastic CEOs and some really terrible managers. Sometimes great leadership is enough to build a strong culture but sometimes we have to work at it. If you are attempting the latter, these steps will help guide your way.

#1  Align your Culture with your Strategy

This may sound obvious but all too often initiatives to change culture fail because it doesn’t make sense for the business. The new CEO wants a relaxed work environment so she eliminated the dress code policy and started wearing shorts and t-shirts to work. Sounds great? Unfortunately, she is running a financial services company and the clients are becoming concerned. The culture must match the business objectives. In this case, the appearance of professionalism and success is key to attracting and retaining clients.

#2  Define your Culture

You can call it values or objectives or ethics but whatever you call it, define it. Work with different levels of the organization and document what you want your culture to be. Remember, a “great culture” may mean different things to different people so you will need to document what it means for your organization.

#3   Communication and Feedback

Once the leadership team has agreed on what the culture should be. They should start communicating. This isn’t set in stone yet so you will want to go level by level obtaining feedback along the way. Communicate to your senior managers, obtain feedback and possibly tweak. Communicate to your supervisors, obtain feedback and possibly tweak. So on and so on. How deep you dive will depend on the size of your organization. For larger organizations, you may want to just select a pool of employees to provide feedback. As long as you are tapping into different perspectives in your organization you will be effective. This involvement not only provides varying opinions but it creates buy in from your team when they are involved in the process. You don’t have to use all suggestions but you should be prepared to defend why you made the decision.

#4  Create Clear Actions that Support the Culture

This is where you identify the actions and behaviours that will change the culture. For instance, if you want a culture centered on employee growth and development you may implement a training program, performance management process, have Managers become career coaches, etc. Create these action items for all aspects of your newly defined culture. They need to be specific and include who is responsible for each action item. For instance, human resources may be responsible for training the Managers on coaching skills but the Managers are responsible for coaching their employees.

#5  Train your Managers

Ensure all your managers have a complete understanding of what they are to do, why they are doing it, and how they will do it. This could include classroom training, online training, and management coaching. They may be doing things they have never done before so they will need the skill to meet the objective. If you have a bonus plan, strongly consider setting specific objectives around the cultural shift and tying it to your Manager’s compensation.

#6  Communicate Entire Plan to Employees

They were involved in the process now it is time for them to see the result. This includes the newly defined culture and at least some of the actions identified to change the culture. While some actions may not be appropriate to share (i.e.: a termination), communicating specific actions will add credibility to the plan.

#7  Assess the Outcome

You may choose to survey your employees or host focus groups. Either way, circle back 6-12 months later and see if there has been a shift. It won’t happen overnight but you will want to observe some change. You may also want to review the strategy on a yearly basis to ensure you are doing everything you can to steer the culture in the right direction. The direction may also change as your business evolves.

#8  Make Tough Decisions

Sometimes there will be people in your organization that can not, or will not, adapt to the new culture. If you are trying to create a positive work environment and you still have, after this process, a manager who yells and intimidates employees, you may have to cut him loose for the betterment of the employees and your company. Good culture still starts at the top. If you do not treat your people well, you can not expect your team to treat their people well.

This is the core of your culture. However, these 8 steps will help ensure that the rest of your leaders are on the same page.

Sarah Mullins is the founder of uptreeHR, a Halifax based human resource consulting firm that is passionate about helping business owners manage their people, set clear expectations and increase performance. We truly believe you can treat your employees well, create an amazing culture and not break the bank. To book a complimentary 30 minute consult with Sarah, click here. Sarah Mullins, CPHR Principle Consultant uptreeHR 902-266-6932 sarah@uptreehr.ca www.uptreehr.ca


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