When you are building your own business, or experiencing rapid growth, just getting through the day can be a challenge. You are putting out fires, sometimes setting them, and of course responding to a thousand ‘gottaminutes’ throughout the day. In the midst of solving customer crises, ensuring the cash is flowing in the right direction and just getting staff hired, something like culture, while not unimportant to you, can get relegated to something you’ll get to at just about the same time you actually take that week off you’ve been promising yourself.
Unfortunately, failing to be intentional about your culture is as damaging as failing to take your vacation. The results of personal burnout include fatigue, irritation, and lack of productivity…much the same as an unproductive culture. A lot of times, leaders don’t address this not because they don’t want to, but because it seems too vague to wrap their minds around.
Usually leaders are primarily focused on the knowledge, skills and abilities needed to perform whatever tasks need to be performed. Don’t get me wrong, technical competence is necessary – so necessary that I spend a large portion of my time with my clients defining duties, building training programs and selecting people with the right composition of skill, and then developing valid and accurate performance metrics for the key functions. However, it is far from sufficient. Recently, Inc.com published an article about media giant Netflix, and their policy not to tolerate ‘cultural terrorists’ based on the extensive damage caused by an improper cultural fit.
So what is a good cultural fit? For that matter, what is your culture? I think the easiest way to answer this is to answer succinctly and clearly: How do you want your employees to represent your company to each other and to your customers? After you answer it, then find out what your employees (and customers) say.
The heart of your culture reveals:
· What are the true values? (Profit at any cost? Integrity at any cost? Honesty? Winning?
Clues to your actual (versus stated) culture can be seen in:
· How do people talk to each other?
· How important is your employees’ and/or customers’ personal well-being?
· How important is mutual respect and integrity?
· How easy is it to tell each other bad news?
· What happens when people make mistakes?
These and further questions identify your culture. For every person, and every organization, there will be times when the apparent means to success are at odds with one’s code of ethics and the true value of one’s culture is how those situations are dealt with. Is cutting corners okay when the stakes are great? Is abusive or bullying behavior admissible when the perpetrator has a unique skill set or the ability to garner high revenue? Every person, and every organization, has stated and actual values and the best way to truly know the actual values is to look at the decisions that are made in tough times, and the behavior that is tolerated.
For leaders, the first step is usually to identify the desired behaviors and articulate them. Then, we can look at the actual landscape and whether there are disconnects. If there are, the next step is to determine how important it is to you to conform to your ideals or if the rewards justify the disconnects. In the event that the ideals win out, the final step is to develop an action plan to get back to your preferred roles of conduct; including coaching and even termination for those that cannot or will not honor them.
If you have started a company, or lead one, chances are high that you had a strong set of values and a vision for your organization well before you hired your first employee. In the midst of the battle that is running a successful organization, it is easy to lose sight of this. Unfortunately, one or two oversights or compromises can have an avalanche effect, and you may find yourself staring at a mass exodus or even a lawsuit if bad behavior becomes tolerated or even rewarded in your company. Ask yourself today: Are my employees representing my values to each other and my customers? If yes, good job! If no, you now have awareness, and the truth can set you free!