“Organisational culture is the sum of values and rituals which serve as ‘glue’ to integrate members of the organisation” Richard Perrin
When businesses are small, the leaders will know their staff personally. They’ll be working in close proximity, passing each other in the halls, and bumping into each other in the kitchen. With that personal connection; challenging conversations, sharing ideas and getting things done should be quick, effective, and painless.
Creating the desired culture should also be far simpler within a small business, as everyone can get close enough to learn and mirror your behaviours and practices. However, as your business grows to a size where you don’t know everyone personally – successfully upholding that culture will become an ongoing challenge.
The larger an organisation becomes, the more physical and emotional distance there is between the leaders and their people. It becomes increasingly more important to put formal structures in place to facilitate the embedding of your culture – which can no longer be taken for granted.
Google recognises the importance of bridging the gap between senior leaders and their workforce from the off-set. They currently have approximately 60,000 employees. Despite this, their CEO Larry Page insists on signing off on all new hires. In this 2011 interview with Wired he states he has personally vetted over 30,000 of their employees.
Page unveils that for every new candidate being interviewed, he is sent an overview of the hiring councils feedback; which is generated by their own software. This report allows Page to rapidly scan the most important data and make his assessments. He gets sent these reports weekly and will typically reply within a few days with his approvals or rejections. This process ensures that everyone understands his vision from the very beginning. It also allows him to witness first-hand if the new hires align with the cultural vision of his company. Page summarises this process very simply – “It helps me to know what’s really going on.”
Not all businesses have the resources for this sort of operation. When you don’t know your people personally, you can adopt processes and structures to help ensure there is cultural alignment throughout your organisation.
There are four pillars that will help establish and sustain cultural alignment:
Lead from the front
“…If you get the culture right, most of the other stuff, like great customer service, or building a great long-term brand or empowering passionate employees and customers, will happen on its own.” Tony Hsieh
To effectively create cultural alignment, recognise that you form the foundations of your business and its practices. To ensure the desired culture and vision are at the heart of every aspect of business, instil them from the top down and control the narrative.
Successful businesses need the right systems and processes in place – underpinning them is the culture and vision. They are the foundations that drive your business forward and give everyone direction. If they are not shared by your people, then everything else becomes less effective.
To establish and sustain the desired culture, embrace feedback from the people that impact your business – your staff and maybe even your clients and customers. These are your greatest resources.
Adopt regular pulse surveys to collect instant intelligence on your people. This will provide you with an overview of the sentiment and culture of the business. Establishing real-time dialogue with your people will give everyone a platform to provide valuable input. This will allow you to build action plans off the back of their insights – to improve culture and vision; whilst creating alignment.
Keep it simple
“If you can’t explain it to a six-year-old, you don’t understand it yourself.” Albert Einstein
To successfully establish and sustain an aligned organisational culture, keep it simple to ensure everyone understands it. Can you explain it to someone who’s just started the business and be confident that everyone else can too?
Your mission, goals, vison and culture should all be straightforward, upfront and open. Whether you want to create an entrepreneurial culture or a customer-focused culture is up to you – but make it simple and clear, and make sure everyone can see, hear and feel it.
Communicate clearly and consistently
“The art of communication is the language of leadership.” James Humes
To ensure your people take everything on board, communicate regularly and consistently. Talking about it will only get you so far though; you must act and deliver it too. Demonstrate the way you want everyone to conduct themselves and position yourself as a cultural ambassador. This will inspire people to follow your lead; allowing the culture to permeate throughout your business.
Make efforts to apply the same expectations and values to all your workers. Avoid saying one thing to one team and something else to another. For consistency, think about all the ways you can get your message out there: guidebooks or gifts, induction videos, regular meetings, pictures on the walls – you can even use screen-savers and computer wallpaper as reminders. There is no correct approach, you should choose what’s right for your business.
Empower everyone through trust
Leaders become great, not because of their power, but because of their ability to empower others.” John Maxwell
Whilst you lead from the front and take ownership – it is also important to empower others to help build and improve the culture alongside you.
Empowered employees are vital for organisation success. They go above and beyond, demonstrate self-sufficiency and become cultural advocates. This will help improve and evolve your company-culture.
To create empowered employees, make it clear you trust them and have faith in their judgement and abilities. Many companies create a culture committee; where staff come up with ideas to improve the culture that leaders may have overlooked. By creating systems where your workforce can improve the culture, you will ensure it filters through every area of your organisation.
Business leaders are role models and cultural advocates. Everyone looks to them to set the tone, and most people follow their lead. They have a duty to project and uphold the company ethos, vision and behaviours.
These four pillars will provide you with the best chance of creating and sustaining cultural alignment.