Tuesday, April 27, 2010

How to create a strong culture.

Post 475 - Here are some central concepts about culture:

- Culture = Behavior.
We use the word culture to describe behaviors that represent the general operating norms in a given environment. In business, some aspects of culture will support a company’s progress and success while others will impede that progress.

- Culture is Learned.
People learn certain behaviors because of the rewards or negative consequences that follow that behavior. What’s rewarded is repeated and the association eventually becomes part of the culture. For example, a thank you from an executive for work performed in a particular way helps to shape a culture of appreciation.

- Culture is Learned Through Interaction.
Employees learn a company’s culture by interacting together. Job applicants form an initial opinion of a culture as early as their first phone call with the HR department. They also get a sense of the culture and their fit with it during the interview process.

- Sub-cultures Form Through Rewards.
Sometimes employees value rewards that aren’t associated with the behaviors that management wishes for the good of the overall company. That's how subcultures are formed, as people get social rewards from coworkers or have their most important needs met in their project teams or departments.

One way to create a strong culture — let's say one that emphasizes fun, sharing, collaboration and connection — is by following these four simple steps:

Step 1: Understand.
Effective leaders understand what’s important to their fellow employees. So developing a strong company culture starts by taking steps to find out what motivates the people who work with you. They talk with employees to find out what they expect from the company and to learn what's important to them. This understanding will help them develop a culture that’s appropriate for the business, rather than one that’s just based on their own ideas of what people might enjoy. It also sends a message that collaboration and communication are an important part of the culture.

Step 2: Take action and Involve.
Next, follow-through is important because it shows that you’ve taken the employees' interests and concerns to heart. Try this simple exercise: Divide a blank piece of paper into four quadrants labeled fun, sharing, collaboration and connection. For each heading, involve a group of employees in brainstorming a list of actions that will improve the company’s culture in this area. For example, under "fun," you could have a weekly drawing for free passes to a movie. Rather than trying to do everything at once, start by implementing a selection of ideas that you know you can do well. Highlight a few of the items from the brainstorming list that can be implemented immediately and save the rest to do later.

Step 3: Collaborate
Give employees the freedom they need to follow through with their own ideas. This doesn't mean letting them to go off in all kinds of different directions. Instead, create a small multi-level leadership group to oversee and guide their creative efforts along the right path. This group is responsible for encouraging employees to come up with ideas, discussing concrete ways of putting their ideas into action, and holding them accountable for meeting their objectives and delivering on their commitments.

Step 4: Demand accountability
Changing a company culture isn't something you start and then ignore. Like a well-tended garden, a strong culture is the result of continuous creativity and care. It’s important to make accountability a continuing part of the culture through strong communication and follow-up.

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