Businesses today are challenged by what may be considered the most rapid pace of change in history. New technological advancements and accelerated economic swings are creating a perfect storm for which organizations have little time to prepare and adapt for survival, let alone for success. However, the one beacon of light that an organization can rely on to guide it through these treacherous waters and protect it from irreparable damage is its organizational culture. The question then becomes, what is an organizational culture and how can an entity develop and hone it to serve as its lighthouse in a storm.
Organizational culture can be defined as the collective norms, values, attitudes and work habits that the members of an organization share and agree to uphold. To put it another way, if a company’s brand is its face, its organizational culture is its soul. It reflects the formal and informal behaviors, interactions and underlying traditions, beliefs and processes that tie individuals to an organization and keep them there, whether they be loyal employees, clients, business partners or even donors. It is how individuals would describe the organization, its structure, unique attributes and vision, under oath, using both tangible and intangible concepts. In this sense, an organization’s culture must align with its vision and subsequently be woven into its strategy.
Yet, unlike the fact-based economic and contractual nature of business, corporate culture is both subjective and objective, and therefore much more difficult for an organization to standardize. While a culture can change based on the influence of internal and external sources, including the behaviors of an organization’s leadership, a CEO or business owner cannot dictate or will a cultural change without backing up his or her words with action.
Following are eight strategies that organizations can rely on to build and strengthen organizational trust and a cohesive culture that becomes the motivation and rallying cry for its success and the success of its individual employees.
- Create a Compelling and Shared Vision. A vision helps an organization identify what it hopes to be famous for and connects workers to that shared goal. Not only does it encourage employees to work together, but it also centers them around a common purpose that inspires them to learn, grow and give their best efforts every day. When you involve employees in the vision-planning process, you allow them to have a voice and contribute to creating something special and meaningful. Consequently, they are more likely to be engaged in their jobs and loyal to their employers.
- Define the Culture to Support Business Strategies. Businesses must invest in policies and practices that facilitate employees’ efforts to integrate the demands of their professional work with the obligations of their personal lives. Special care should be taken to help employees avoid a tug of war between work and family, which will ultimately undermine the goals of the organization and lead to higher incidence of employee burnout and turnover. Instead, select a set of guiding behaviors to define the desired culture and reinforce them through a variety of measurable team-building and team-training programs.
- Spend more Quality Time Together. Most working professionals spend the majority of their time on the job, whether that be in an office or out in the field with coworkers, clients or business partners. While this requires workers to get along, it does not always translate to lasting friendships, which ultimately affect loyalty and culture. Instead, organizations should look for opportunities to gather together employees and their family members outside of the work environment, where they can interact on a more social level and create strong emotional connections that tie workers to each other and to the organizations themselves.
- Create Quality Traditions. Organizations can strengthen genuine connections and reinforce loyalty by developing high-quality and consistent traditions, practices and other experiences that members of an organization share on a regular basis. For example, a business may employ a policy of dress-down Fridays, host an annual bring-your-child to work day or encourage workers to bring their pets to the office. Similarly, organizations can help workers build deep connections in their communities by organizing teams to participate in charitable fundraising events or volunteering their time to help others in need. The more these traditions involve family members, the more fun workers will have and the more emotional their connections will be to the organization.
- Improve Organizational Communication. A strong and resilient culture cannot develop in a vacuum. Organizations must work diligently to create a two-way street of open, honest and transparent communication between all of its members. Moreover, they must recognize when there are weaknesses in this open flow of information and take steps to repair them. Not only should organizations create open discussion forums for their CEOs or presidents, but they should also expect and even encourage workers to ask questions and receive answers.
- Help Employees Build Their Skills. People want to be a part of organizations that are interested in their development as individuals. A healthy organizational culture provides a stimulating environment that emphasizes and encourages employees’ professional and personal growth. This may involve investment in employee training and education, mentoring and other leadership-development programs as well as annual reviews of worker performance.
- Monitor Employee Satisfaction. To gauge the effectiveness of their culture-building strategies, organizations need to look no further than its front-line employees. Are workers satisfied? The only way to answer this question is to ask. By monitoring employee satisfaction on a frequent and consistent basis, organizations can more quickly identify and respond to areas that need improvement.
- Make Culture an Ongoing Organizational Commitment. Because an organization’s culture will radiate outside of its workforce to its clients and its bottom line, it is critical that culture programs receive high priority. In fact, a half-hearted commitment to developing and cultivate culture can be far worse than no commitment at all. The goal should be to inspire employee engagement and build genuine connections based on trust, rather than requiring employees to grudgingly comply with a laundry list of top-down rules and regulations.
Creating the right organizational culture is crucial to an entity’s long-term success and profitability. It is the only distinctive and sustainable long-term competitive advantage available to businesses. It starts at the level of internal policies and procedures and extends to how leaders interact with employees and demonstrate their commitment to workers’ individual successes. From there it radiates outside of the organization’s physical walls, affecting the level of services it provides and the reputation that it needs to project to attract and retain quality workers and develop trusted relationships with clients.
About the Author: Richard A. Berkowitz, JD, CPA, is founding and executive chairman of Berkowitz Pollack Brant and Provenance Wealth Advisors (PWA), where he provides business consulting, growth strategies and succession-planning consulting to entrepreneurs and companies. He can be reached at the firm’s Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., office at (954) 712-7000 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.