How do you and your organization develop or maintain a winning culture?

In my 20 years of experience in working with multiple companies across multiple industries and globally, there is a lot of talk about culture; however, little to no impact – bottom line results. On the other hand, I’ve seen companies with an existing, winning culture and I’ve also seen one built – both types of situations drove bottom line results. The distinction between the so-so (and ugly) cultures and the winning culture is perseverance of implementing and maintaining the core elements of culture.

The reason the ‘talk’ rarely turns into a winning culture is that it isn’t backed by solid fundamentals and hard work. So, how do you and your organization develop or maintain a winning culture? There are three keys to success: 1) Define what you’re known for. 2) Consistency. 3) Involve the entire organization.

  1. Define what you’re known for.This sounds simple but it isn’t. It isn’t what you’d like to be known for; instead, it is ensuring what you define is what you are known for or what you’ll become known for. Again, talk is cheap. The key to a winning culture relies on flawless execution – there are no free or easy rides in developing culture! In my experience with cultures ranging from ugly to winning, a few core elements emerge which are common to winning cultures.First, the organization understands its core competence and focuses almost exclusively on it. As a part of this focus, the organization faces reality (one of the most overlooked issues in an ugly culture) but does not overreact to bad news by throwing out the baby with the bathwater (ie. core competencies). Also, it is vital to keep the organization updated and in the loop constantly.Second, the organization is clear on its values and lives by them. It is easy to communicate values; much harder to live by them. Even the easiest-sounding of values such as “do what you say you’ll do” isn’t nearly as easy when it comes to implementation. Be careful to think through your commitments before you make them. Then live by them. If they must change, admit your mistake and ensure it occurs rarely.Third, the organization has a rigorous performance management process. It is amazing how many times I’ve seen organizations not have time for this process yet it is #1 to achieving their goals. The right people are your #1 asset. Thus, it is essential that each person understands his/her goals, how they relate to the organization’s goals (and its core competencies), why their role makes a difference, how they are performing etc.Positive and constructive feedback shouldn’t be provided once a year in a performance review; instead, provide it daily. Don’t get hung up in complex forms and paperwork. What matters is a simple understanding between the employee and his/her manager. I’ve found the best performance processes to be simple in terms of paperwork, backed by powerful conversations. By asking for their feedback and providing feedback on a continuous basis, you’ll show that you value them. What could be more important?
  2. Consistency The quickest way to build a winning culture is through daily consistency – blocking and tackling. Consistency refers to both communication and execution. For example, I’ve seen countless examples of poor cultures where the Executives emphasize communication but not consistency in application. Just as in children, employees listen to what they see, not what they hear. And, this can be much harder than it sounds.A common example is when leaders say they value people; however, as soon as the numbers decline slightly, their first thought is to reduce headcount (people). It’s not that winning cultures never cut back on resources; however, they review their core competencies, examine profit drivers (which include items other than just people), and then develop solid plans of action. When accompanied by straight-forward communication, a rare headcount reduction aligns with the culture’s expectations. And, on the other hand, many times, the winning culture’s organization finds alternatives that provide an even better financial return and long-term result. One key distinction is that poor performers are continually weeded out of the winning organization, and so it is more efficient from the start.
  3. Involve the entire organizationA winning culture can only succeed if it involves the entire organization. It cannot be an Executive mandate, and it cannot be a success in the trenches and not in the Executive offices. The only formula for success requires it to become a part of the daily working routine. This daily routine involves not only the people in the organization but it also involves key customers, suppliers, and other partners. One way to achieve this goal is to involve employees in the change and then monitor progress and refine / adjust as required. Exemplars are critical to success. Who will be most effective as a visible supporter based on expertise, position, respect etc? Identify your exemplars prior to the change, involve them upfront and ensure constant communication. The organization will follow.

Culture can be a significant ingredient to delivering bottom line results and customer loyalty. Take the time to develop a winning culture, and you’ll be surprised by how much your employees enjoy work and the results that follow.