Coach’s Challenge for 2/5/12 “Importance of Culture”

Good day, team.

This week’s challenge comes from a Fast Company article sent to me by a client. The complete article, “Culture Eats Strategy for Lunch” by Shawn Parr, can be found here.

The heart of the piece is about the importance of creating a vibrant company culture that everyone from your CEO down can contribute to and relate to in their daily work lives. Parr writes, “It’s not good enough just to have an amazing product and a healthy bank balance. Long-term success is dependent on a culture that is nurtured and alive. Culture is the environment in which your strategy and your brand thrives or dies a slow death.”

Last week, I had the privilege of working in a two-day summit meeting with a client’s technology team. We spent some time discussing the team’s shared values by first identifying each team member’s individual values (What are the five most important things in your life?), sharing those individual values, translating how they show up in the workplace and, finally, defining the behaviors that best illustrate those values. It sounds like a long, painstaking process, but this exercise of relating core personal values to workplace behaviors is far better than having the corporation post values in the lobby that no one pays any attention to.

Doing this exercise allowed the team to discover that their values are much more similar than different, which means that even when they strongly disagree, they have a way to remind each other of where they do agree. It allows a shared, foundational understanding to become part of difficult discussions, which can then neutralize an argument.

Embracing core values is only one aspect of creating a vibrant corporate culture. The following excerpt from Parr’s article shows us four more important pieces to the puzzle:

Uncommon sense for a courageous and vibrant culture

It’s easy to look at companies like Stonyfield Farms, Zappos, Google, Virgin, Whole Foods or Southwest Airlines and admire them for their passionate, engaged and active cultures that are on display for the world to see. Building a strong culture takes hard work and true commitment, and while not something you can tick off in boxes, here are some very basic building blocks to consider:

1. Dynamic and engaged leadership
A vibrant culture is organic and evolving. It is fueled and inspired by leadership that is actively involved and informed about the realities of the business. They genuinely care about the company’s role in the world and are passionately engaged. They are great communicators and motivators who set out a clearly communicated vision, mission, values and goals, and create an environment for them to come alive.

2. Living values
It’s one thing to have beliefs and values spelled out in a frame in the conference room. It’s another thing to have genuine and memorable beliefs that are directional, alive and modeled throughout the organization daily. It’s important that departments and individuals are motivated and measured against the way they model the values. And, if you want a values-driven culture, hire people using the values as a filter. If you want your company to embody the culture, empower people and ensure that every department understands what’s expected. Don’t just list your company’s values in PowerPoint; bring them to life in people, products and spaces, at events, and in communication.

3. Responsibility and accountability

Strong cultures empower their people. They recognize their talents and give them a very clear role with responsibilities they’re accountable for. It’s amazing how basic this is but how absent the principle is in many businesses.

4. Celebrate success and failure

Most companies that run at high speed often forget to celebrate their victories both big and small, and they rarely have time or the humility to acknowledge and learn from their failures. Celebrate both your victories and failures in your own unique way, but share them and share them often.

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This week, take a look at your organization’s culture. Would you call it vibrant? Do your customers know what you stand for? Are your employees actively involved, engaged and empowered? If not, what can you do to influence your team and your company to create a culture that everyone is proud to belong to and where he or she wants to succeed?

As Parr reminds us, “A strong culture flourishes with a clear set of values and norms that actively guide the way a company operates. Employees are actively and passionately engaged in the business, operating from a sense of confidence and empowerment rather than navigating their days through miserably extensive procedures and mind-numbing bureaucracy. Performance-oriented cultures possess statistically better financial growth, with high employee involvement, strong internal communication and an acceptance of a healthy level of risk-taking in order to achieve new levels of innovation.”

Sounds like the kind of culture I’d like to be a part of, how about you?

Have a good week!

Kathleen

P.S. The coach will be on vacation from Feb. 10–15. The next challenge will be published on Feb. 19.

© Copyright 2012 Pathfinders Coaching, Scout Search Inc., all rights reserved.
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