4 Critical Success Factors For Any Quality Culture

Dr. Joseph A DeFeo Blog Leave a Comment

Over the last five years, I have traveled to 30 different countries to assess and observe companies to help them understand where they need to improve and how to close those gaps. One area that was a top priority for those companies was to measure their culture. This was a difficult thing to do because there aren’t specific things one can do and all of a sudden have a strong culture.

Culture is an amoeba-like structure that continues to evolve and change as you shape your company. With people coming and going from a company, the culture will change because you are injecting different mindsets into the company.

Companies today are trying very hard to improve their culture and make it a center of focus. Because of the competitive workforce and a knowledge of the economy, companies are struggling to keep the right employees. Additionally, “millennials” have entered the workforce and by 2020 will be the dominant population in the workforce. This group demands certain things that are different than what companies have traditionally offered.

Many people think culture is derived from tangible benefits like unlimited PTO, working from home, a casual dress code, or break rooms with ping pong tables. While these help the company culture, they are not the defining factors that make it work. Below are four key factors to building a successful culture.

Define what culture means

Culture is less tangible than companies want to believe. Why is it hard for them to make changes or try to improve? To make changes to a culture one first has to understand what it is. Below is a definition I believe best represents culture:

A culture is, “the integrated pattern of human knowledge, belief, and behavior that depends upon the capacity for learning and transmitting knowledge to succeeding generations.”

The integrated pattern means everything a company does represents their culture, brand, who they are, and why they exist. It is a set of values and beliefs that were originated when the company was founded and includes hiring people who share those same values and beliefs. In Laszlo Bock’s, “Work Rules”, one specific part ties nicely into what culture means.

At a conference he gave a speech and talked about what it was like to work at Google, one person spoke up and said, “It is easy for your company to have cool offices and free lunches with double digit returns” Laszlo responded and said, “You do not need double digit returns to have a strong culture.” He continued to ask the person, “do you let your employees listen into leadership meetings?” The person responded with no. Laszlo continued to explain that not letting your lower level employees get involved with leadership meetings creates more harm than good. Allowing your employees to be involved with leadership meetings makes the company more transparent and trustworthy and at no cost to the company.

This specific example shows a simple way companies can create a better culture. People have a misconception to what culture is and need to define what it is first and know it is not always tangible to see.

Understand your “why”

Every company has a different origin and different reason for existing. Every founder of a company typically will lead and present himself in a way they feel the company should be run. They will constantly explain why they do what they do and find people who believe in their vision.

A founder cannot be the one who develops the vision, executes the how, and measures the what. They need other people to work together with them to do those things. Many companies I have visited who have had cultural problems forgot “why” they existed and what they were working for. The leaders of these organizations were more worried about cost and profit than creating an environment where people want to work.

When I step into these types of places it is hard to understand what the companies stand for and why they do what they do. To understand this, sometimes you need to take step back and ask yourself ‘why do we do what we do, and is it evident in the way we work?’ If it is not, then you need to get back to your “why,” find new ways to communicate it, and find people that believe in it.

One thing companies need to look out for is to make sure you are being ‘true to yourself’ (or your vision) and don’t change to be like other companies. Every company is specific to themselves, and that is what makes it a special place to work. Unsurprisingly, some companies I have visited are trying to replicate what Google does and it has not worked. This is because they do not understand why they are doing it. They are only going through the motions with the hopes of improving culture.

Select the right talent

Recruiting is a key process to finding the right people for your company. Companies always want to find top talent and keep them. Top talent has always been referred to as the people with the best experience, best education, and best matches the job description.

In recent years, companies have re-defined what top talent means. It is more closely tied to the type of person, their mind-set, their belief system, and their drive or motivation. These are key components to finding a person who will be most successful at your company. Many times new recruits seem great on paper, but once immersed into the company they struggle because they do not share the same passion or desire as others. Sometimes it is not best to hire the person that appears to be good on paper, but someone that believes in what you believe in to carry on the vision and the “ethos” of the company.

Once you find the right people, the hard task is to retain them. The people that leave a company are ones that realize they are not passionate about what the company stands for, or their work is not fulfilling and they become stagnant. In the past, promotions or more money were enough to encourage an employee to stay. Today, people want to find challenging and interesting work that fits their interests.

To keep the right talent, companies need to be engaged with employees, ensure they get challenging work, allow flexibility to let them work as they see fit for the task, allow them to fail in order for them to learn, and let them feel in control of their work. If a company can do this for their people, then they will have a higher probability of their talent staying. Once an employee stops learning and being challenged, they will move on.

Lead by example

The founders and leaders of companies are the people who need to lead by example and inspire their employees. Many companies I visited have had leaders who lead by example, but as you start to move lower into the organization, middle-level managers begin to distort what the vision and beliefs are. These middle-level managers are more driven by their personal incentives and forgot why they are doing what they do, and in many cases hope to receive higher earnings.

When the majority of the workforce is the lower level and the “why” is distorted from middle-managers, it creates a disconnect from what leaders think is going on versus the reality of what is happening. In small companies this is not as big of a problem as it is with larger companies because they are flatter and communication is easier. This doesn’t mean large companies can’t be successful, but it requires leaders who inspire their own people and ensure their message is consistently communicated.

High-level leaders need to engage with not just the middle-level manager but everyone throughout the company. Leaders that are more transparent, communicate, and engage with their workforce have a higher probability of their people emulating them. Leaders should be people that do not control everything, but are there to support and guide their people.

Overall, company culture is different for every organization. Companies need to stay true to why they exist and find people that believe in what they believe in. If a company is struggling with their culture, they need to define what it is, understand their why, find the right talent, and lead by example. In order to make changes it’s best to set up a supportive environment and empower your people, and remember to listen to them. People can push beyond their limits if given the opportunity to try, and if they fail they will learn from their mistakes and become stronger professionals because of it.



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