Do I always have to stay on top of my organization’s corporate culture? What happens if I don’t want to or have time to?

An unmanaged culture never gets better – it only gets worse! I know that sounds harsh, but it does not lessen the importance of this fact.

The Weeds Are Taking Over

On the first sunny day of spring I always get the urge to venture outside and spend time in my garden. That is… until I see all the weeds that have taken root since last time I was there. So I weed and weed and weed until I get the last of them. I tell myself, “Whew, this will be the last time I will have to do that exhausting chore!”

By now you are laughing at me because you know that WEEDS HAPPEN! Seeds and roots left by the ones I just pulled and new airborne ones will dive in as soon as I go back inside for a glass of iced tea. Silly of me, isn’t it?

Yet the same is true of your corporate culture. You think you have the best culture: one where every employee lives up to your highest ideals, where the customer is well taken care of, and where all the decisions made are smart. Right?! Now who is being silly?

Office Politics Happen

Everyday your employees face temptations to take short cuts, seek competitive or political advantage, and overlook something critical due to time constraints. Now if only one employee did something that damages your firm’s integrity and reputation once a day, could you live with that? What if each of your employees only did one culture damaging action a day, could you ignore that? What if every employee upset one customer every hour of every workday, could you sleep peacefully at night?

What about a new employee, who has not yet been indoctrinated into your workplace norms, who immediately does something counter to your “perfect” culture?

Like my weeds, these little dings that tarnish your corporate culture are always in the “soil” or blowing in the “wind.” That is why every smart high road leader monitors his or her culture daily looking for and quickly removing any “weeds.”

A Visible Tool

When I advise my clients on revitalizing their corporate culture, I take them through an engaging activity. From this we create a remarkable tool that allows you to fine-tune change in employees’ behaviors so they support your ideal culture.

Step 1

Ask every employee to create a list of five to seven traits that they admire in a co-worker, but do not provide them with any suggestions. Let them use their own thought processes. Provide enough pressure so they have to create their list quickly – give them no more than 20 minutes. Ask them to complete this sentence: “I admire a co-worker who is…” being very specific and using words that can be noticed through a visible behavior.

Step 2

With the employees present (or a sub group that represents most employees), compile the separate lists together, combining the common descriptors. If there are any that are vague such as “nice” seek details from the employees on how the trait can be demonstrated with a behavior. Nice might become “courteous as demonstrated by listening before sharing ideas with me.”

Step 3

Compare your compiled list (which will be long) to your Culture Statement.

e.g. “The employees of Raelco support and enhance a culture that respects and practices these norms:

We value…

  • Accountability
  • Commitment to quality and accuracy
  • Demonstrated honesty and integrity in our actions, decisions and words
  • Flexibility
  • Privacy and confidentiality
  • Open communication
  • Openness to new ideas and innovations
  • Respect for each other
  • Superior customer service
  • Trust

Next, ask the employees this question; “Of these traits we admire in a co-worker, which ones will support this ideal culture?” Take each visible behavior and place it under the “we value” characteristic. Some will fit in line with more than one. For example, “direct” could be categorized as accountability, honesty, open communications and trust. The more places a behavior fits, the more likely it will make the final cut.

Using a decision-making method―Delphi, majority vote, process of elimination, etc.―hone your list of behaviors until you have ten to twelve. These are the ones that every employee can respect and believes will really foster the ideal culture.

Step 4

Place these visible behaviors printed onto a 3 by 5 card. The card will read:

I admire a coworker/team member/employee who…

  • is accepting of differences
  • is direct
  • is on time
  • is proactive in seeking potential problems
  • is courteous and respectful
  • provides me with timely feedback
  • supports me in my work
  • follows through on their commitments
  • is fun loving and helps create a relaxed workplace
  • places the needs of the customer first

Step 5

Print enough cards for every employee plus extras. Laminate the cards and hand them out to every employee. Ask each person to carry it around with them. [Some clients have printed their list on the back of the employee ID cards.]

Place the extras around the firm, in all meeting rooms and wherever employees congregate.

Step 6

Teach employees to use it as a tool for enlightening a coworker who fails to live up to these traits. This empowers your employee to start removing a “weed” as soon as one is spotted. Remind employees to also give kudos and thanks whenever they see an employee practicing these behaviors. Ask each employee to make sure that he/she models the behavior.

Give out “on the spot awards” or kudos to employees who show you their card during meetings and other firm assemblies. Even if they forget to look at it, the employee will carry the card if there is a spontaneous reward attached. This increases the chance that they will use it to model new behaviors.

Step 6 ½

As always, I am available to provide you with tools, ideas and support you will need to undertake a successful culture transformation. Be sure to share this article with others, with your co-workers or with your clients.