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Let's Start With Culture!

(posted: May, 2014)

I am so excited to release my first blog as the founder of San Diego HR Advisors, LLC. I had so many potential topics to choose from but I landed on culture.

Why culture?

For me, the answer is both personal and professional. Most of my working life was spent with Hewlett-Packard, and at HP, culture was central to the way Bill Hewlett and Dave Packard did business. In fact, their approach became known as "The HP Way" and was adopted by a number of Bay Area companies.

Many elements of the HP Way resonate for me, including working with great people, trust and respect for everyone, giving people challenging objectives, accountability for results and sharing in the rewards of success. I see many of those elements reflected in "The Speed of Trust" by Steven Covey. Trust in an organization directly impacts speed and cost. "When trust goes up, the speed goes up and costs go down." Trust makes everything easier.

As an HR consultant, I look for clients who want to have a positive culture with a high level of trust and where happy and engaged employees deliver their full capability and performance for the organization.

My reasons are simple:

  • It's the way I prefer to work
  • I believe that it makes organizations more successful in the long run, and
  • It's the way I encourage my clients to work.

What Is Culture and Why is it Important?

A group of happy, productive employees in suits

Culture is the unwritten guides and tacit, unspoken rules of behavior in a company. You could say that culture covers everything that isn't in the employee handbook.

Frances Frei and Anne Morriss offer some examples of culture in their Harvard Business Review post, "Culture tells us how to respond to an unprecedented service request. It tells us whether to risk telling our bosses about our new ideas, and whether to surface or hide problems. Employees make hundreds of decisions on their own every day, and culture is our guide. Culture tells us what to do when the CEO isn't in the room, which is of course most of the time."

I agree with Howard Stevensen, who says, "Maintaining an effective culture is so important that it, in fact, trumps even strategy."

What Are the Elements of an Effective Culture?

High Levels of Trust & Engaged Employees
These are the two most important elements in creating and maintaining a great culture. Gallup and others have demonstrated that an engaged and trusting workforce is a more effective workforce and will deliver better results than a workforce that isn't engaged. We've all seen companies or teams where a fearful or apathetic workforce delivers mediocre results, at best.

Not surprisingly, leaders and managers have the biggest impact on employee engagement and trust. Leaders set the tone through their behavior and actions: A strong leadership team that walks its talk is critical. But, managers have the most impact on the day-to-day experiences of your employees. Do your managers buy into your values and understand how their behavior and actions support or inhibit trust and engagement?

There are other elements to an effective culture, but you have to get your people engaged before anything else will make a difference.

Understanding Your Current Culture
One way to do this is to take some time and walk around your offices observing what is going on. Take time when you don't have a goal or an objective and you can try to just be an observer. Look for the way your employees interact with each other, and up and down the chain of command. What emotions do you see in these interactions? Look at the way space is allocated, observe what is written on whiteboards and other public spaces. What tone is used - friendly, casual, business-like, blunt, sarcastic, negative?

You'll need to do your observational walk-throughs several times, on different days and at different times, but this is a great way to identify the overall atmosphere in your company.

If you have employees who you think will open up to you, ask them what they think the company culture is. Ask them if they think they can do their best job everyday. Ask what is working well and what might be getting in the way.

(If you go this direct route, you should be prepared to address any concerns that they raise. Don't ask if you don't want to know.)

If you sense that people are being cautious, that should be a yellow, or red flag.

This approach is a bit tricky and some additional help might be advisable. It can be hard to receive honest feedback without becoming defensive. Even during a walk-through, it's difficult to be objective.

Clear Values & Vision
You can't create a great culture if you don't have a clear idea of your core values. What is important to the company? How do you want to reach your goals? What are the values that matter to you? And where is the company headed? What is your vision, your reason to exist? What are the values and culture that will enable you to attain your vision and outperform your competitors?

Walk Your Talk
To get and keep an engaged workforce, leaders and managers have to believe and demonstrate the core values and beliefs of the company every single day, in every single interaction.

Communication concept icons

It's Okay to Ask For Help

Culture change takes time and commitment from you. To be frank, it won't happen next week or next month. But you can steer your organization in the right direction, and we can help.

Assessing Your Culture
We have the tools, strategies and experience to help you understand your current culture, including interviewing leaders and managers, conducting focus groups with employees or even customers, and objectively reviewing your current policies and procedures.

Guiding Alignment, Identifying Next Steps
Armed with the results from our assessments, we will help you determine your next steps to take you from your current state to your desired culture based on your mission and vision. We'll also help you align your leaders around your values and create buy-in for the new culture.

Your culture is critical to the success of your business. To be effective, your managers, supervisors and employees must become involved in understanding your goals relative to your mission, vision and the culture that you want to create. The most effective and long-lasting impact will occur when your employees are directly engaged in this work. You and your leadership team will need to lead the charge for this change, but we can provide experience and expertise to help make you successful.

Take The HR Challenge

  • Do you have a culture of trust that engages your employees and brings out their best performance everyday?
  • What methods have you used to create an inclusive and engaged culture in your business?
  • How have you gotten your managers actively engaged?

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