I keep hearing people in the industry talking about how we need to change our culture. In fact, I spent almost two hours recently trying to figure out what a company president wanted from me. All he kept saying is that he wanted to change the company’s culture. I finally said, “Why don’t we move the entire business to central Africa, including all the employees, that would definitely change the culture.” He did not get my humor in that comment. Eventually I got him to give me a list of specific objectives that he wanted to meet.
I’m sure you’ve been at a meeting someplace and overheard someone saying their business needs a “culture shift” or “major change in the corporate culture”. This whole “culture change” phenomena kind of reminds me of the term “Paradigm shift” that I heard way too many times from my days at General Electric over twenty years ago.
Before I started writing this article, I typed in the word “Culture” in my search engine box and I was surprised to see how many business coaches and consultants came up saying they were the experts in this latest buzz word taking over the business world. Yet when I tried to find information as to what they really did, or should I say, what objectives they met, I could not find anything. I come from the world of identifying the challenge, determine the root cause, develop a solution, process or system, to resolve it. You then measure it to make sure the solution is working, then go on to the next challenge. So, needless to say, this idea of changing culture as it is communicated today is a bit confusing to me.
I decide to look up the word culture in “the Free Dictionary” online. Here is what it says:
a. The arts, beliefs, customs, institutions, and other products of human work and thought considered as a unit, especially with regard to a particular time or social group: Edwardian culture; Japanese culture.
b. These arts, beliefs, and other products considered with respect to a particular subject or mode of expression: musical culture; oral culture.
c. The set of predominating attitudes and behavior that characterize a group or organization: a manager who changed the corporate culture.
I will assume we are going to use the “c” definition of culture as our point of reference for this article. So, it says “The set of predominating attitudes and behavior that characterize a group or organization.” Based on this, the term “culture change or shift” must imply that we want to change the thinking, attitudes and/or behavior of the majority of individuals in a group of people who work together.
I decided to break this whole culture awareness thing down to one common and easy to understand objective rather than trying to read a variety of articles or hire a cultural change “guru”. Let’s make this as easy as possible. What we are really saying when we want to change our company’s culture is, that we want to make our employees happier about working in this particular business or organization by making specific changes that will positively affect the working environment and the morale of those who work there. In other words, be more “Employee Focused”, I guess.
If you read some of my previous articles here, you would have found a variety of ways to adjust your company’s methods and processes to improve morale, work ethic and loyalty with your team of employees. With the continued influx of the millennial class of employees we are finding that they insist and expect things to be quite different than they really find them when they start a new job. Some so-called experts say they need to get an example of “tough love”. I disagree. I think we should really pay attention to what this group of future employees say and how they believe things should be in order to be competitive as a business of the future. This same group of people are going to be our future customers. If they believe you are not doing anything special for your community, for your employees and for customers, they will not do business with you.
Here is a list of changes that I believe need to be implemented to become more employee, customer and community focused:
First, you need to understand that as an organization, you are in business to serve people. These people are your clients, your community and your employees. You can only do well financially if you take care of them.
Secondly. I call it the “Tripod of Success” there must be three winners. The Company, the Customers and The Employees. If one of them are being treated fairly and winning,, just like removing one leg of the tripod, your organization cannot stand up on only two legs and will topple over.
Third, you must accept that finding new employees is not simply putting an ad in the local paper or online job classified ad. Today’s most successful companies need to market themselves and their businesses as one of the most desirable available. It is no longer just about the money. It is more about being in a place where you feel appreciated and respected. Working in contracting businesses is a viable option for a life-long, successful career, you know it and I know it. Start with middle and high schools. No one else is speaking to them about working in skilled trades, it might as well be you who introduces them to an option that doesn’t require incredible debt and college.
Fourth. Great companies offer services for employees that help them personally. For example, I have several clients who offer financial counseling services that are coordinated through their bank for younger employees. I’ve also seen wellness programs put in place that give special incentives to employees who get regular checkups, join a fitness club and/or work towards a goal for improving their health scores. I recently met with the president of one of my client businesses that mentioned they have a counselor that is a part time member of the staff who is available should any employee suffer an emotional hardship, such as a loss of a child or relationship challenge. All conversations are kept between the counselor and employee.
Fifth. Now more than ever, especially newer and younger employees are expecting some sort of career guidance. I’m a huge proponent of mentoring. I recommend every new employee have the option available to have a more experienced employee or perhaps even a member of management who has volunteered to do so, become a mentor, to be there to answer questions, listen to recommendations and help in the future career of his or her potential successor.
Last, but surely not least. Employees like to have more input into how things are handled within the organization. Many millennials will have no problem walking into the CEO’s office and making suggestions a few days after starting a job. Most CEO’s would consider this offensive and disrespectful. However, keep in mind this employee has had the ability to do just that everywhere in their life up until this moment. I recommend that during the initial process of new employee on-boarding, that an organization goes through the various stages of how things are handled and hands over an employee handbook on the first day. As far as uphill communications are concerned, every company should have a method for employees to voice their concerns in a timely fashion and get feedback rather quickly. Please don’t tell me you have an open-door policy, it never worked before, doesn’t today. Also, a suggestion box is not the answer either. I recommend having regularly scheduled meeting where your teams get to meet, discuss topics openly and have the ability to communicate their thoughts and get an answer.
During many of my “Business Tune-up” employee meetings, I hand out a 5 x 7 index card and a pen. After a brief presentation as to why I’m there and I really value the front line employee’s opinions when I recommend changes or new ideas, I tell the employees that I would like them to list at least one recommendation on the card. Not a complaint, but a positive recommendation. I leave the room for 15-20 minutes and when I return, every person must put their card into a slot on top of a box I set at the door as they are leaving. This way I know everyone contributed something. I have had tremendous results with this. Some people would never vocalize an idea but have no problem writing it down. Some of the best ideas have been brought forward this way. Questions? Send me an email at email@example.com.
Now, go forth and “Shift Your Culture”!
Frank Besednjak is a business coach and motivational speaker, he can be reached at his email firstname.lastname@example.org