5 questions to ask about corporate culture to go beyond the usual gossip


There aren’t many leaders who would disagree that a healthy and productive culture is a critical component of a business’s success. Yet so many companies with high-sounding “mission statements” and “core values” have the most toxic workplaces imaginable. Too many leaders still treat the human factor in business as an afterthought, a matter of good administration as opposed to bold innovation. In other words, so much of our thinking about culture has become so bland, so blameless, that it’s on the verge of losing its meaning. So what follows is an attempt at culture shock – five tough questions about the ‘soft’ side of business that leaders need to be able to answer if they hope to create a workplace that works: 1) Your business strategy. talent management rooted in your business strategy? 2) Does your business operate as distinctly as its competitors? 3) Can you understand what it means to be a member of your organization? 4) Is your culture designed for learning as well as performance? 5) Can your culture maintain its enthusiasm for change and renewal, even when the business stumbles?

There aren’t many executives who would disagree with the idea that a healthy and productive culture is a critical part of a business’s success. Yet I have seen so many companies with articulate “mission statements” and “core values” that have the most toxic workplaces imaginable. I’ve met so many executives who are brilliant at product design and capital structure, but treat business people as an afterthought, a matter of good governance rather than bold innovation.

In other words, so much of our thinking about organizational culture has become so bland, so blameless, that it’s on the verge of losing its meaning. What follows is therefore an attempt at culture shock – five tough questions on the ‘soft’ side of business that leaders need to be able to answer if they hope to create a workplace that works.

Is your talent strategy embedded in your business strategy? Culture cannot simply be an assortment of well-intentioned HR practices; it must develop from distinctive Business practices. Thinking about the great companies I’ve come to know – companies that win big in tough, competitive fields – they all exude what the brand strategist is. Adam Morgan calls it a “flagship identity”. Whenever you meet them, however you meet them, you understand what makes them different, what they are ready to do that other companies are not and why what they are doing is relevant today. ‘hui. That’s why building a great culture begins with intellectual clarity about what your organization stands for and why you expect to win. There can be no talent strategy without a compelling business strategy.

Does your business operate as distinctly as its competitors? Yes, the most successful companies think differently from the rest – this is what separates them from the competition in the marketplace. But they also have no more worries than everyone else – this is what unites people as colleagues in the workplace. A lot of what we focus on as leaders is how to be smarter: big data, smart apps, social media. Great culture allows smart organizations to be more human, to make everything they do more authentic, real, memorable. The true promise of a culture, argues influential venture capitalist Ben Horowitz, it is “to be provocative enough to change what people do every day”. This is the real link between culture and strategy: if you want to energize and elevate the competitiveness of your organization, you must energize and elevate the behavior of your employees.

Can you understand what it means to be a member of your organization? Fundamentally, the role of culture is to strengthen a sense of belonging, a shared commitment among colleagues about how they solve problems, share information, serve customers, and deliver experiences. This is why the most sustainable cultures rely on language and rituals designed to create a palpable sense of community – which in many cases only makes sense to the people who are part of that community. A favorite tagline of Texas A&M University students and faculty, a long-established school with a unique culture, sums it up: “From the outside looking inside, you can’t understand it. Seen from the inside, it cannot be explained. This is the spirit that I have seen in companies with the most powerful cultures. Their leaders devote a tremendous amount of time and imagination to crafting small gestures and symbols that send big messages about what it takes to keep everyone looking their best every day.

Is your culture designed for learning and performance? High yielding crops are built on fierce competition, flawless execution and an unwavering commitment to service. But truly sustainable cultures are also synonymous with change and renewal. This is one of the dangers of success: the better an organization is, the more its culture takes root, and the more difficult it can be for leaders and employees to stay alert to big changes in markets, technology and society. culture. This is why the best cultures and the most effective leaders continue to learn as quickly as the world changes. They are constantly looking for new practices from other companies, new ideas for independent industries, a new sense of what is possible in their own fields. At WD-40, a company with one of the richest learning cultures I’ve seen, CEO Garry Ridge likes to challenge his colleagues with a simple question: when was the last time you did something. for the first time ?

Can your culture maintain its enthusiasm for change and renewal, even when the business stumbles? It is much easier to maintain high levels of energy and morale in a business when sales are booming and stock prices are soaring. But the reality of today’s competition is that long term success is virtually impossible without short term stumbling. Part of any organization’s staying relevant is experimenting with radically new technologies, sketching out alternative business models, and rethinking how it engages with customers, which necessarily involves setbacks and disappointments. This is why the most sustainable crops are the most resilient crops. Colleagues at all levels embrace the power of creative ideas, deep beliefs, and confidence in the face of missteps. Leadership scholar John Gardner calls this prospect “a stubborn optimism”, and it is a characteristic of cultures which can move and transform over time.

Despite all the noble talk about talent and values, I can honestly say that I haven’t met many leaders who think as creatively or rigorously about their company’s culture as they do about R&D and finance. . But for the real great leaders I have studied, the human factor is just as vital as that of technology or money. We hope you, like these great leaders, can answer these five tough questions about the soft side of business.


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