The Culture Job: Day Two

The Culture Job: Day Two - Ducks

“From where does company culture spread, from the heart or from the head?”

I’ve been asking myself this question recently as I took over a new role at my company. I’m now the VP of Culture. Perhaps not as lyrically at first, but I begin to wax poetic when faced with questions few have answered. The justification for concentrating on company culture, as a strategic initiative, has growing empirical support in the board room. According to Deloitte’s Global Human Capital Trends 2015(1):

This year, culture and engagement was rated the most important issue overall.  87 percent of organizations cite culture and engagement as one of their top challenges, and 50 percent call the problem “very important.”

You can read a lot about the importance of culture in any number of blogs and articles. All of them address the importance of communication, mission, vision, engagement, and so on. The need to consider culture is clear. But what is the enlightened Management Team to do once they buy in to the idea — and set one of their own to steward a successful company culture program?

What do you do on day two of a culture job?

I agree that it is necessary to have top down influence to drive a culture’s momentum. If there is no support from the head, the body will not follow. The CEO and Senior Management Team set the tone and are enabling influences in nurturing any culture. However, a program will not spread and take root if you ignore the elements of your company’s cultural history, industry and marketplace, skill sets, and types of employee that are already in place. Any sound culture program must incorporate elements of a culture that “is.” Knowing the existing attributes of your company’s culture (good or bad) is much better starting point.

In any established organization, culture can be nurtured, migrated, updated, influenced, but it cannot be spontaneously manufactured. The program must be manifested for employees out of the familiar, wrapping the initiatives in reality and trust. Then you can work with your culture and employees to bring all into new levels of engagement.

What The 'Vice President Of Culture' Does At This Mass. Software Company

Here was my initial approach, and it began with discovery. I’d worked at my company for several years, in a more ordinary leadership role in marketing. I was just as much of an employee as the next person. So I started there, asking myself (and then others) these four questions:

  1. What does it mean to be a member of the team?

    How employees see their relationships play out within an organization says a lot about how healthy that organization is.
    Finding out the attributes of team membership: strong, soft, smart, speedy, knowledgeable, trusting, experienced, risk taking, paced, innovative – all of these are a telling way to establish the tone of your culture.

  2. Why are we here?

    This simple question targets the heart of the vision and mission awareness issue.
    Different companies have different levels of focus on vision and mission statements. But it’s  clear that if everyone at your company answers this question differently, or the same, knowing how they answer is critical in determining the effort needed in building consensus and team spirit.

  3. What’s your favorite thing about this place?

    This may be a benefit, amenity, location, aura, job responsibility, or person.
    Find out what your positive cultural “tent poles” are. If for no other reason than not screwing those up in the name of doing something new and different. The last thing you want to do is steamroll what’s working. The idea is to add value, to extend and export your culture, not shut things down.

  4. What’s your least favorite thing about the place?

    You don’t want to become a walking complaint box.
    Routing out some common things within your organization that employees really don’t like — and then directly addressing them — goes a long way to making your efforts real in the eyes of your employees.

This is unabashedly an anecdotal approach. Talking to people directly may not be as complete as a survey, but I’ve found it far more effective for discovering intangibles within your culture. And people like to talk; it pays benefits when they feel included. This can be invaluable in building something real. This is my starting point to assist anyone exploring how to effectivity define the heart of your culture, before beginning the work on enhancing your culture or building it into the culture you want.


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