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Things are just fine right now, or are they?

By Rob Wolff, Senior Consultant

Many of the CEOs/owners whom I speak with about their cultures are usually pretty satisfied with their current state.  They often indicate that they’re making money and their employees seem to mostly be doing the right things.  In their estimation, things are good enough and so working on their culture isn’t much of a priority.  In fact, they have other more pressing issues that they barely have the time to address.

Why Invest Time on Culture?

Given their relatively stable situation, many wonder why they should spend much time on culture.  The answers here can be many (please see the most common reasons in David Friedman’s last blog here.)  In this blog,  I’ll focus on what companies experience when they become intentional and systematic about creating their culture.

It’s All About Alignment

I’ve worked with some great organizations throughout my career, and those organizations were typically made great by talented, committed employees at all levels who wanted to help achieve our organizational objectives. They often saw success as being more than their own individual goals – they wanted to see the organization succeed.  As a result, they were (usually) working toward a common objective, even if not always in the same way.

Here’s the problem:  when a group of people are working toward the same goals, but without complete alignment, there’s wasted time and effort, and results suffer.  For example, we may say at a top level that we want to do what’s right for our customers, but without being clear and specific, that may mean different things to different people.  Two customer service agents sitting right next to each other may define what it means to do what’s right for their customer in two separate ways. One may think the right thing is to offer free shipping all of the time while the other thinks that helping his customers understand our shipping policy is the best thing to do for that customer.

To be as successful as possible, we need to provide our people with much greater clarity around the expectations.  In the example above, the customer service team would all have the same understanding of what it means to “do what’s right for our customers.” As a result, they’re more consistent in their approach and ultimately achieve at a higher level.

Grab The Rope!

The difference between a good business and one with a high-performance culture is that team members clearly understand what’s expected of them and what they can expect of their teammates.  In most companies, employees are taught how to do the basic functions of their job, but the rest of the things that they need to do – how to work with coworkers, with customers, and even with vendors and suppliers – the things that consume the majority of their time, are left to be figured out on their own. It can take a long time to figure that all out, and when they do, there’s often significant variance in approach.

In an organization’s that have high-performing cultures, there’s far greater clarity from the beginning concerning how to work with each other, with customers and with outside vendors.  That learning curve becomes very tight, and the inconsistencies in approach are minimized.  While everyone is still working to achieve the organizational and individual objectives, they’re now pulling the rope in the exact same direction, with little to no conflict in approach.  That’s clearly a much more efficient approach.

Wait, There’s More!

While the efficiencies gained through alignment of approach should be enough of a reason to be intentional about developing and articulating your desired culture, there’s another very important benefit to the exercise.  I’ve introduced clearly defined cultures to thousands of employees, and in every case there’s a deep sense of excitement and appreciation on the part of the general employee base.  The overwhelming majority of employees work for more than just a paycheck.  They want to go to work each day knowing what’s expected of them, and what they can expect of each other. They want to know that they’re contributing to something with purpose and that what they do matters. They want to know that their efforts aren’t wasted. They thirst for this information, and taking an intentional approach offers them that drink!  As I explain to every employee group that I work with, the investment of time and energy in being clear about what’s expected of the team is an investment in the business, and an investment in each of them individually.  Most employees in most organizations never get that level of clarity.

I’ve yet to see the business that wouldn’t benefit from being systematic and intentional about its culture.  If you’d like to learn more about how you can drive a culture that enables your people and business to perform at their highest levels, shoot us an email, give us a call, or check out David Friedman’s latest book, Culture by Design.