Successful corporate cultures are organic: They evolve in response to the organization’s needs and keep employees working together with a shared sense of purpose. Achieving such a flexible and adaptive model, though, has to be carefully planned if it is to withstand change and protect and grow value.
Consider this: Intangible assets like culture are estimated to be 52% of any given company’s market value, and businesses on Forbes’ annual “100 Best Places To Work” rankings provide market returns three times higher than those who don’t make the list.
Getting corporate culture right isn’t a feel-good initiative. It’s a business imperative. A deliberately designed, measured, and enduring culture has to be part of a company’s growth model if it intends to win today. Pay attention to these five steps, and you’ll ensure your culture evolves in the right way.
Assess your current culture
Leadership usually starts thinking about their corporate cultures during major business transformations. The status quo gets upended, making it clearer to see what is, and isn’t, working. Maybe a new CEO joined or an investor is demanding faster growth. Every change is an opportunity to measure and adjust behaviors.
Once you measure your current culture, you must then define the one you want and close the gap. This can only happen with an honest assessment. Is your current culture aligned with your strategy and transformation goals? Are you trying to achieve new things through old ways of working? Is the tone leadership sets right for the organization? Will your risk tolerance hold people back from innovating? Knowing these answers will inform your path forward.
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Reflect company values—and strategy
Company culture should align with company values. They are the guardrails for how you work together, anchored in what you believe is important. But you also must connect those values to overall business strategy if you want to make sure they’re embedded in programs, policies, and procedures.
Does your company value and strategically call for innovation? Prove it. People throughout your company come up with great ideas everyday. Managers should empower employees at all levels so that those ideas flourish. When leaders create a safe environment to express and advance ideas, employees are 31x more likely to think their workplace is innovative.
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Get the board on board
Board members’ oversight of workplace evolution matters. It is up to leaders at all levels to define and grow culture as a key part of the overall business operation. But that starts at the top, and boards play an important role in holding the executive team accountable.
They can do this by including cultural indicators in performance metrics, discussing how incentive structures impact behaviors, and making sure execs set the right tone. More existentially, boards reflect the company at large. So take a look at who’s at the table and what example they set.
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Find the real influencers
You can create all the mass emails and team trainings you want, but if you don’t have buy-in from employees, particularly those who are liked and respected, your culture efforts will fall flat. Often, these influencers are not necessarily people with traditional leadership roles, but their opinions hold sway with peers. They’re influential, and you may have no idea who they are.
So how do you find them? HR software tools like Organizational Network Analysis (ONA) use data to identify the less formal, but equally important, social network of employees. By evaluating data from calendar flows and email exchanges—the “digital exhaust” of the company—you can create social maps to better identify influential culture carriers throughout the organization. Get these people aligned, and, better yet, helping to promote these culture shifts, and you can really start to impact behavior at scale.
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Prioritize your people
People are value drivers, not cost centers. And treating them as such has the wonderful side effect of creating more long term value. Take a look at the numbers: Unhappy and unengaged employees are 15% less profitable, 18% less productive, and cost the UK economy £340 billion every year. Happy employees are 12% more productive, and they’re, well, happier.
Leaders should prioritize employee engagement and well-being. And to successfully do so, that may mean cultivating a new set of skills at the top, including empathy and transparency that builds trust. By putting people at the center of your business, you move away from transactional models into modes of true transformation, for your culture, company, strategy, and beyond.
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