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Monday, August 24, 2015

Shaping Your Company’s Culture to Drive Performance

On ASQ’s blog the monthly topic presented by Influential Voices Blogger James Lawther is about what not to do when creating a performance culture. Culture change is a frequent topic for us change managers where continuous improvement initiatives are underway.

Corporate culture, safety culture, quality culture, lean culture, … We talk about culture all the time but what is it?

Culture is the environment in which you work all of the time. Culture is a powerful element that shapes your work enjoyment, your work relationships, and your work processes. But, culture is something that you cannot actually see, except through its physical manifestations in your work place.

Culture is like personality. In a person, the personality is made up of the values, beliefs, underlying assumptions, interests, experiences, upbringing, and habits that create a person's behavior.

Culture is made up of the values, beliefs, underlying assumptions, attitudes, and behaviors shared by a group of people. Culture is the behavior that results when a group arrives at a set of - generally unspoken and unwritten - rules for working together.

In a healthy business culture, what's good for the company and for customers comes together and becomes the driving force behind what everyone does. Culture determines what is acceptable or unacceptable, important or unimportant, right or wrong, workable or unworkable. It encompasses all learned and shared, explicit or tacit, assumptions, beliefs, knowledge, norms, and values, as well as attitudes, behavior, dress, and language.

An organizations culture shown in
(1) the ways the organization conducts its business, treats its employees, customers, and the wider community,
(2) the extent to which freedom is allowed in decision making, developing new ideas, and personal expression,
(3) how power and information flow through its hierarchy, and
(4) how committed employees are towards collective objectives.

Company culture is important because it can make or break your company. Companies with an adaptive culture that is aligned to their business goals routinely outperform their competitors.

It affects the organization's productivity and performance, and provides guidelines on customer care and service, product quality and safety, attendance and punctuality, and concern for the environment. It also extends to production-methods, marketing and advertising practices, and to new product creation. Organizational culture is unique for every organization and one of the hardest things to change.

To be able to shape organizational culture we need to understand the difference between culture and climate. We can compare this difference by using an everyday analogy with a person’s personality and mood.  Someone’s personality is enduring and difficult to change, whilst their mood may change many times during a day. Based on this analogy, culture is the equivalent of personality, whilst climate is the equivalent of mood.

Fundamentally, a change of culture occurs when people start behaving differently as a result of a change in the climate of the organization. There are many different models of how an organizational culture is shaped by the prevailing climate and how it can be assessed.

There are seven practical actions that you should consider undertaking if you want to shape your organizational culture so that is supports Lean.

Become aware of your current culture
You should start to notice your existing culture. Listen to how people express themselves and the stories they tell about successes and failures. Pay attention to shared values and watch how teams behave. You will gain a lot of information about your current culture by going to the gemba.

Assess your cultural “current state”
There is a need to identify the cultural aspects you want to retain from your current culture.  For example, you may want to keep motivated teams, a commitment to achieving excellent performance, flexible working practices, and a desire to deliver exceptional customer service. You will also need to identify the things that need to go. Lastly, you will need to identify the things that are missing.

Create a cultural “future state”
Imagine your ideal culture. How do you want people to behave and to react when things go wrong? Fine tune it until you have a clear picture of what you want from your organizational culture in the future.

Share the vision
Communicate openly, frequently, and consistently. Describer your cultural vision in letters, e-mails, briefings, and put it on notice boards, in newsletters, and everywhere else you can. Don’t be afraid to over communicate your vision because you can’t.

Align your leaders
There is a need for leaders to do more than just agree about the future state. Alignment is about leader at all levels living the cultural future state for the organization. You and your fellow leaders should constantly be working together to learn and reflect on how things are going.

Treat culture as a strategic issue
Culture may be perceived as fluffy stuff but it has real impact on organizational performance. Changing a culture can change the fortunes of the entire organization and is therefore a senior management team issue and should be discussed regularly.

Keep it fresh and up to date
Culture can take a long time to change. Celebrating every success along the way has the effect of keeping things fresh during this extended period of time, as well as reinforcing the behaviors you want in the future. You will also need to keep your cultural future state up to date, based on any changes in your organization’s market or operating environment.

The culture of an organization is learnt over time. It can be taught to new employees through formal training programs but is more generally absorbed through stories, myths, rituals, and shared behaviors within teams. Organizational culture will impact positively or negatively on everything you try to do whether you want it to or not.

Note: You can also refer to an older ASQ post Creating a Quality Culture for 5 critical elements necessary for creating a climate focused on quality.

I’m part of the ASQ Influential Voices program. While I receive an honorarium from ASQ for my commitment, the thoughts and opinions expressed on my blog are my own. 

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