The Power of Company Culture
In more posts than I can count, I have written, discussed, and interviewed authors on the importance of organizational culture. A powerful culture fuels an organization to achieve greatness. When a new book by Chris Dyer titled The Power of Company Culture: How any business can build a culture that improves productivity, performance and profits hit my desk, I was interested to see the author’s view of culture and his interpretation of the latest research. Chris didn’t disappoint. The book takes the reader on a thoughtful overview of culture and shows the practical steps to take to improve yours in record time.
I recently spoke with Chris about his work on company culture.
3 Ways to Increase Transparency
Transparency. You share some great ways to increase transparency. Is it ever possible to be too transparent?
Of course! Take any example, and a case can be made that too much of a good thing can be bad for you. Each company needs to decide how transparent they should be with employees, customers, and vendors. InThe Power of Company Culture, I present evidence that more transparency is usually better. Regulations, privacy concerns, and competitive advantages aside, transparency is really about writing—and playing by—the rules of the game.
When companies take charge and share information about their financial health, successes, failures, goals, and dreams, they then control their own narrative. As humans, we can only use the information we already have to explain something new we don’t understand. By providing more information to those impacting our companies, we help them arrive at the correct conclusions and outcomes.
Any company looking to improve their transparency should start in a few key areas. First, ask: Does everyone in the company know what goals have been set by senior management? Overall company goals, department goals, and even team goals should not be a secret.
Second: Does everyone know and understand the financial health status of the organization? For public companies, this information is available to everyone. But most companies are not public. Decide how far you are willing to go, and share the numbers that you can.
Third: Do teams, departments, and employees understand what is expected of them by senior leadership? Nine times out of ten, when a department or person is not measuring up to what is expected, there is a disconnect as to what they believe is expected.
Develop a Positive Culture
How do leaders develop a culture of positivity?
There are lots of ways to infuse positivity into an organization. I suggest a deep dive into the Appreciative Inquiry and Positive Leadership working models, via books and interactive workshops.
Before you do that, consider where your business falls on the positivity scale. Do your people ask, “What went right?” or, “What did we do well?” Or do they just focus on solving “problems”? Often, we forget to ask and identify what is working, and consider that the place for us to do more.
Positivity also entails identifying who does what, well. In a team, it is common for some people to excel in one area, and others somewhere else. Aligning tasks and goals around strengths, and minimizing weaknesses, is more positive than working on what’s not working.
Additionally, look at the language used by people in your company to find potential tweaks for positivity. Instead of addressing troublesome issues as “problem solving,” which is a negative concept, start calling them “opportunities to improve.”
Positivity then meets measurement, where some leaders may be missing the mark. How do you maintain positivity in that environment?
Having positivity inside any setting is more about the way we approach situations and phrase our outcomes. Any leader missing the mark may still need a review to determine their fit.
Sometimes a person is being asked to do things that are not strengths. Sometimes they don’t have the resources or authority to do what is asked. Here, positivity can help us find the right lens to evaluate our staff and, if necessary, make brave decisions about their future. Sometimes, change in leadership is the only correct path.
Acknowledgement. Would you share an example of doing it well?
My favorite form of acknowledgment is peer-to-peer. That means, it is up to everyone in the company to say thank you and speak up when good things happen. Although a manager can give this praise, it is not their sole responsibility. The most important factor is that people doing good work get that pat on the back. When it is not about hierarchy, clichés, politics, and favoritism, true moments of gratitude are what cement employee engagement.
At PeopleG2, we use virtual “green flags” as a way to recognize great work and to say thank you. Everyone is responsible for waving these emojis online, in our company-wide chat room. It starts with one person giving another person a green flag, along with a brief description of their heroics. Then, other employees jump in to chorus their appreciation and thanks. This type of acknowledgement is employee driven, effective, and free.
Uniqueness. I love that you included this one. How does this drive a great culture?
The greatest company cultures in the world know how to leverage and celebrate uniqueness. This ranges from distinctions among the overarching products or services of the company, down to the qualities of individual employees, customers, and vendors.
When you know what makes your company unique, and also how people fit into that landscape, you can hire the right talent. For example, if we look at Apple, Amazon, and Facebook, all three cultures do this very well. But, they have totally different approaches to culture, and their ideal employees are, thus, very different. The key to making the most of unique qualities is a formulated understanding and an approach that is intentional, and not accidental.
Listening. I am constantly refining this myself and am always interested in tips to become a better listener. What would you share to help?
Great listening inside of an organization is a two-part process. First, if you are on the receiving end of information, how you take it in is very important, and fifty percent of the equation. There’s an easy way to know if you are a terrible listener: when someone is talking to you, do you immediately have two or three things you think of, and then hold onto, until the other person stops talking?
If you have your response ready and the other person is still talking, you have stopped listening. Instead, wait and hear the whole thing. Then ask a question to ensure you understood. Then formulate your response if necessary. When we listen to understand first, we are better listeners.
The other part of the listening process involves the party delivering information: it is our responsibility to ensure we were heard. Take into account your communication methods, the complexity of subject matter, and distractions as you try to ensure that the other person or group understood what you said. That is the starting point for listening.
Beyond that, exploring every avenue toward deeper and more meaningful understanding will pay off from a cultural perspective. Studies show that the number-one factor for engagement among non-management employees is their perception that they are “heard” at work. How well bosses, teams, and organization leaders listen to their ideas, concerns, and dreams can make a world of difference in their commitment to work and to the company.
Mistakes. Such a favorite of mine that I wrote a book on it. How do you develop a culture that encourages the appropriate level of failure?
This will vary greatly from one company to the next. A technology firm that is poised to develop new solutions and try new ideas will certainly have mistakes and failures to capitalize on frequently. Compare that to a law firm, where mistakes or failure have a very different meaning.
I separate out errors from mistakes. An employee who makes errors and who is not able to stop making them after support and training is going to be fired. That’s different from an employee who tried something new, with every intention of improving a process or outcome, but failed. In most scenarios, we should celebrate these attempts. Allowing our staff the freedom to try new things—aside from something illegal, immoral, or dangerous—and to seek better ways of working is the only way to consistently innovate.
Companies with great “mistakes” policies succeed when they: celebrate the effort; take the time to debrief on why the failure happened; and help the employee succeed on the next attempt. When we are open and honest about our failures, and when we drive cultures that are willing to fail in the hopes of new success, we can run circles around companies that don’t.
Mistakes are only negatives if we make them so. Fear of failure is paralyzing. I prefer to dream of a better way to do something, and enjoy the journey of getting there.