You are a people manager. You guide the strategy of your company (or department) and you realize how important culture is to taking your company to the next level. So how do you take a deliberate approach to creating and cultivating your company culture? You take charge of it like a Captain of course. Below I’ll share some insight I learned from when I used to lead organizational development & employee engagement initiatives in a previous life.
First, there are two key elements to building a great company culture. The first is creating an engaging environment where your employees want to come to work everyday. The second is creating the conditions where your employees are challenged, accountable, and have all the tools at their disposal to communicate and collaborate with each other.
1) Vision, Mission, & Values
As a leader, you must recognize that it all starts here. This isn’t just the written text you see at the water cooler or on the front page of your company’s intranet site. This is the stated direction that your company has set and represents the DNA of your company. Own it. It is your job to ensure these are words you embody everyday so your team will start to do the same.
Take a deliberate approach to designing the work environment your workforce is immersed in. For example, if you want to create a culture of openness, then have people work in open spaces together. Central areas like work cafes or lounge areas where people can meet out in the open is also key.
3) Language & Stories
“We become what we talk about” so stories, slogans, and mantras are crucial, but as a leader you have to believe what you talk about. If there is an example of an employee exhibiting the behavior of a core company value, it is your job to polarize the story so other people have a reference point. The stories told in and outside your company not only support your culture, but they become the voice of your organizational culture.
A key characteristic of driving any company culture is discipline. Without it, organizational habits desired by your company will never crystallize. This comes from recruiting great talent with the right values, but also reinforcing discipline as a habit by being a performance driven culture.
Does your company have a professional image it needs to maintain? Or is an important value of your company something like “fun” where it is important for everyone to portray a more relaxed look and feel? Which ever it is, it is important to have guidelines that are reinforced through your company’s communication channels. This comes to dress code, the colors used on the walls, templates, etc. Hold everyone accountable to standards defined by company management and make sure your team has a vested interest in image since it’s a large part of the message.
6) Open Finances
Alignment to the company strategy is the number one aspect of work that engages all us is our emotional connection with the company. It is best to tell this strategy story in terms of numbers. We need to feel that what we do everyday has some sort of effect on the company’s success. Providing your employees messaging about where the company is going in the marketplace and how they are doing financially, has twice the effect over compensation as an employee engagement factor. I know this because I proved it out statically in a global company with well over 10,000 employees. Don’t be afraid to go deep in this area too. Communicate productivity and waste goals to reinforce elements of the financials that may bear strategic or short-term opportunity.
7) Handle Ideas with White Gloves
One of the worst feelings someone can feel is that no one is listening to them or values their ideas. The ideas in your employees heads are extremely valuable and if the correct ones are implemented and nurtured, it can have a transformational affect on your company. As a leader, meet with your team frequently and talk about their ideas. Listen, take notes, and implement what makes sense, or tell someone where their idea is at in the queue & encourage them that it is a great idea (if it is!). Most problems in the company, especially at the tactical level will be identified from your employees. They are your central nervous system. Since they will be the ones implementing them, better sure to have them suggest, analyze, and execute solutions on their own. Give them autonomy. They know what’s best from being closest to the problems.
8) Feedback, Feedback, Feedback…
This one reinforces point eight even more. Ensure you have mechanisms in place for cultivating feedback from your employees. These can be email boxes or suggestion forums on your company intranet. Fostering a culture of feedback not only will help get oxygen to areas of your organization that have been neglected, but it will engage and delight your employees.
9) It’s about Careers, not jobs
Just as strategy alignment is a more engaging factor than compensation, so is career development. We all need to get the sense that we are going somewhere, moving forward, and growing. It’s in our DNA to behave this way. Ensure you organization has career development plans for every position in your company and review those paths against your company strategy at least twice a year. This review process should be in sync with your performance management process since they go hand in hand. Involve your teams in coming up with these plans. The outcomes will be better if you do.
10) Reward & Recognition
Once you know what behaviors your company desires from each position in the company, ensure the right mechanics are there to support them. This can be rewards, recognition, promotions, and bonuses. Recognition is by far more critical than the reward itself. Most of us won’t ask for recognition, which makes it a hard personal need to fulfill. Just remember that recognition must immediately follow the positive action, it must be public, and most importantly, it must be sincere.
All in all, it is your job as a leader to be cognizant about the way the culture should be, taking a read on the current climate & behaviors of the organization, and closing gaps between the two that may exist. Employees will watch what you do and not what you say. So be deliberate about the organization habits that you want to see manifested and over time you will find your company take on the culture it set out to be.
Samurais are ideal leaders. Their virtues for commitment, personal responsibility, contribution, focus, honesty, and honor make them ideal examples. Samurai is the term for the military nobility of pre-industrial Japan. As de facto aristocrats for centuries, samurai developed their own cultures that influenced Japanese culture as a whole.
For the Samurai, in some ways his decisions on how to succeed were relatively simple. He essentially had to harmonize a constituency of two – his Lord, and his “Bushido” code or value system. Obey both, or die. In fact, one could argue that the Samurai only had one master, his value system, as loyalty to the Lord was an intrinsic part of the code. Another constant of Samurai life was continual training for excellence. Harmonizing these things is a good lesson for today’s leader.
Below I will summarize 7 key points on how to lead like one of these noble leaders of excellence:
1) Pass the Leadership Test
Samurai followers have a bias for action, follow direction, and don’t care who gets the credit. Most importantly, they know the value of sacrifice.
2) Avoid temptations
Samurai have such a self discipline. They choose results over status and popularity. They also choose certainty over clarity and harmony over productive conflict.
3) Samurai avoid the “Enemies of Growth”
By focusing on expectation, knowledge, certainty, teamwork, and action, Samurai always get the job done and lead their team to victory in battle.
4) Focus on Greatness
Discipline is key to greatness and greatness comes from the DNA and values of an organization. True leaders (Samurai) can get people to do things even when they don’t have the power to MAKE them do it. Great leaders view themselves within a constellation of colleagues rather than atop a hierarchy. Great leaders (Samurai) are rigorous, not ruthless.
Tomorrow’s organization will become what today’s leaders (Samurai) are now. Leaders need to operate in a healthy and sustainable way. Leaders are more vulnerable. Learn to spot your fatigue. Get rest, training (exercise), and good nutrition way before you need it.
6) The Currency of a Samurai
A position of leadership is a form of currency. Great ideas are similar to great melodies. You know a good one when you hear it. Know where to spend your time and how to spread your good ideas.
7) These Things a Leader (Samurai) Must Do
Clearly define the objective(s), strategies, and plans (cast a vision). Get people engaged (communicate and inspire). Make the experience meaningful and memorable (make it personally relevant). Run the race in such a way so as to be able to finish (operate in a sustainable manner)