How to Define Culture in the Workplace

Managing company culture is no longer an option. It’s a must.

The modern workplace and workforce are changing faster than ever, with generational trends, shifting values, digitization, hybrid work models, and a volatile labor market all impacting what we once knew.

70% of millennials, for example, prioritize the ‘people and culture fit’ of a company over other factors, while 58% of people who have left a job due to company culture ultimately left because of their manager. These statistics are just a few out of hundreds making it clear that effective leaders need to focus on people and culture in the workplace. As a fairly novel phenomenon for some leaders, building company culture can seem like a fluffy effort, even intangible—but that’s not the case.

In this blog, we’re diving into the first two pillars of Culture Performance Management™ (CPM™)—an empirically proven solution for defining, implementing, measuring, and managing company culture—to give you a concrete and step-wise strategy for defining culture in the workplace once and for all.

Defining Culture in the Workplace

Company culture is not the result of one thing. It’s not something that can be cultivated overnight. Company culture, rather, is the culmination of values, ideals, attitudes, actions, behaviors, and goals—whether they are shared or not. To build a strong company culture, aligning on what these attributes and characteristics look like in practice is paramount. Once they’re defined, measuring and managing them is what creates a positive work culture. So, before you can define culture in the workplace, your leaders need a clear understanding of what company culture is and is not.

Company culture IS the result of:

  • Shared mission, vision, and values
  • Leadership behaviors and actions
  • Measured and managed accountability
  • Sustained practice and results
  • Continuous learning and development

Company culture IS NOT created through:

  • Culture surveys
  • Happy hours
  • Gift cards
  • Free snacks
  • Working from home

By the nature of these bullets, you can see that building company culture takes hard work, difficult conversations, big decisions, and unwavering commitments. Fortunately, there are solutions to help you along the process and clear steps to take, starting with pillar one of the CPM™ methodology: Select your company’s value system.

Select Your Value System

Just like any other process that you measure and manage, company culture can only be successful once it’s defined. This starts with a foundational set of core values, the basis for every CPM™ system.

Core values are the guiding principles and fundamental beliefs that inform your leaders, stakeholders, and ultimately every employee within your organization, how to act. They should be aligned with the company’s mission and made actionable through correlating behavioral standards and expectations.

There’s an art and science to selecting the right value system for a company. In From CULTURE to CULTURE, co-authors Dr. Donte Vaughn and Randall Powers provide insight on selecting effective values:

“You must bridge the gap between value-intent and value-practice. To make the connection, leaders must progress from selection and communication of the core values shaping one’s future-state culture to defining these values with specificity regarding the behaviors that individuals must practice to embody those values. Once the work has been done to establish the core values that are paramount to realizing or sustaining a positive workplace culture, leaders must transition from a broad and generalized understanding of what these values mean to a specific and actionable definition of how these values must be exhibited daily.”

Need help refining or creating clear and compelling core values that align with your organization’s mission and purpose? We have an expert-facilitated CPM™ package that can help you hit the mark.

Define Your Core Values (With Examples)

Once you select your company’s core values, the next step is to understand how you believe these values are paramount to your business’s success and the specific behaviors and actions that embody them. Let’s look at an example, using the core value of Innovation.

First, get a clear and concise definition of what each core value means from a trusted source, as interpretations can be subjective. According to the MSN Encarta Dictionary, Innovation means “to seek new ideas or enhancements to processes and products that improve how we serve our customers every day.

Next, make the definition actionable by including specific behavioral expectations that can be practiced at every level of the organization. Think about what it would look like reflected in your organization:

  • Does the value of innovation, as defined, mean presenting solutions in tandem with problems?
  • Does it require an interest in continuous improvement?
  • Does it mean that in our daily interactions and follow-ups we expect leaders to ask employees their thoughts and ideas regarding how the process can be improved?

When defining the behavioral expectations underpinning your company values, you must be specific, so it’s clear how you expect frontline leaders and employees to behave. Be unwavering about the exact behaviors that leaders must embody to represent your core values and build company culture.

Establishing behavioral standards makes the value you have defined real and practical for the stakeholder. Without the behavioral expectations clearly defined, a value term and broad definition is simply an idea left open to interpretation.

With all of this in mind—create a definition that will resonate with your company. For example, “Our Innovative team members are observant, aware, encouraging, and bold: they always seek out, solicit, and share methods to improve how we serve our customers quicker, faster, and with better quality.”

Finally, you want to define the “standards of engagement” for each core value. These are the actionable behaviors that demonstrate the successful embodiment of that core value. These standards define how your leaders and employees are expected to treat others when interacting or making decisions on behalf of your company on a daily basis. A standard of engagement for Innovation can look like this: I will not dismiss someone’s idea, no matter how silly I think it is.

You’ll want to define a few standards of engagement or actionable behaviors for each core value. In our experience, only 30% of companies with a value system have defined their behavioral expectations—leaving room for interpretation, ambiguity, and confusion down the road.

Want a pro-tip? The CPM™ software helps you determine standards of engagement for common core values. Once you know your value system, simply select each core value within the software to reveal a list of empirically supported behaviors pre-loaded for your leaders.

Common Questions About Defining Culture Values

We’ve implemented custom CPM™ systems in companies of all sizes and industries—and during the process of selecting and defining their values, several questions often arise. Whether your company is working on this step itself or with an expert, read these frequently asked questions and answers:

  • How many behavioral standards should I define for each core value?
    We recommend defining 5-8 behavioral standards for each core value. A helpful starting place is to work backward from the successes in your organization and evaluate the behavioral skills, competencies, and characteristics that have contributed to those successes. Through that evaluation, you can start to find behavioral themes that connect to your fundamental core values.
  • Does providing a standard or behavioral expectation limit my leaders’ natural abilities?
    Someone can stylistically approach the standards of engagement in their own way with the root of the behavior still reflecting the core value.
  • How do you make the core values actionable when people have different roles?
    The simple answer is that the definitions we use for each core value and standard of engagement are defined empirically through the CPM™ system. As human beings, there are behavioral characteristics that inform our impressions, interactions, and actions with other people, which make us unique. However, to create a common experience in the workplace, you need to define the expectations you have of people. Let’s take the core value, Integrity, for example. If Integrity is defined as “doing what you say you’re going to do and remaining disciplined in the company’s protocol”—whether you work in quality control or an executive office, you can fully embrace and embody that core value, applied across your unique responsibilities.

Creating Culture at Work

Selecting and defining your company’s value system is a huge step towards creating culture at work. If you’ve made it this far in your company culture journey, congratulations. If you’re just getting started on this step, we encourage you to take advantage of the CPM™ resources and packages available to you.

Once you’ve succeeded with the first two pillars discussed here, you can connect these terms to when and where real company culture is nurtured—on the front line. This connection happens in pillar three of the CPM™ system: Connect. Watch this short video to see how you can connect the dots between your values and leadership behaviors.

  • Pillar 1: Select the values system
  • Pillar 2: Define the leadership behaviors
  • Pillar 3: Connect the values to engagement and decision-making
  • Pillar 4: Learn through on-demand development
  • Pillar 5: Practice with real-time execution
  • Pillar 6: Refine for continuous improvement
  • Pillar 7: Measure culture performance

Start Building Your Company Culture

We told you building company culture takes hard work, and you might be realizing there’s a lot more strategy and science behind selecting core values than you thought. As the foundation for all activity in your organization, core values are worth your time, energy, and attention—and selecting them should be a collaborative effort among your entire leadership team. This process can be difficult without the support of a subject-matter expert.

At CultureWorx, we provide expert-facilitated sessions that help you get to the root of your company culture. We go in-depth with your team to uncover gaps that could prevent a positive workplace culture. Once your custom CPM™ is in place, our software solutions work to continuously teach, reinforce, refine, and measure how well your leaders are working to cultivate your desired company culture.

Company culture isn’t built overnight. But you can start laying your foundation today. Interested in learning more? Discover the complete Culture Performance Management™ system and find a package that’s right for your organization’s culture needs, timeline, and budget.

Forbes Business Council: 15 Ways Managers Actively Sabotage Workplace Culture

Managers can make or break company culture. Their impact hinges on the quality of their leadership abilities. Are their behaviors making employees feel happy and motivated, or the opposite? The article, 15 Ways Managers Actively Sabotage Workplace Culture, by Forbes Business Council, lists ineffective management qualities and actions that can sabotage workplace culture if not corrected quickly.

CultureWorx’ CEO, Dr. Donte Vaughn, who has decades of experience with organizational leadership and workforce management, is a member of the Forbes Business Council. In the article, he shares his experience with accountability and its mission-critical role in cultivating a desired company culture.

“A leader’s ability to actively sabotage an existing culture is only possible if there is no system to define, measure, manage, and drive accountability around the company’s optimal culture and associated business practices. To sabotage anything requires a leader to deliberately attempt to destroy, damage or obstruct how other leaders drive the culture. How? You promote what you permit!”

Forbes Councils is a collective of invitation-only communities created in partnership with Forbes and the expert community builders who founded Young Entrepreneur Council. In Forbes Councils, exceptional business owners and leaders come together with the people and resources that can help them thrive.

Read the Full Article

Forbes Business Council: Assuage Customer Privacy Concerns With These 15 Business Strategies

Data security has been an increasing concern for businesses everywhere. This recent Forbes Business Council article, Assuage Customer Privacy Concerns With These 15 Business Strategies, brings awareness to the rise of data breaches, cybersecurity risks, and new legislation like GDPR and CCPA. It offers businesses strategies for how companies can protect their data and sensitive customer information.

CultureWorx’ CEO, Dr. Donte Vaughn, who is also a member of the Forbes Business Council, shares how CultureWorx ensures customer data security by implementing non-disclosure agreements early on.

“Our business model adopts a consultative approach with customized solutions that require deep insight into our clients’ operational models. We invest time up front in building a trusting dynamic. Confidentiality and privacy are of the utmost importance as part of this process. To help foster this dynamic, we have implemented tools such as mutual non-disclosure agreements early in our process.”

Forbes Councils is a collective of invitation-only communities created in partnership with Forbes and the expert community builders who founded Young Entrepreneur Council. In Forbes Councils, exceptional business owners and leaders come together with the people and resources that can help them thrive.

Read the Full Article

Forbes Business Council: 14 Effective Mental Hacks For Avoiding Procrastination

Procrastination happens to us all. In this recent Forbes Business Council article, 14 Effective Mental Hacks For Avoiding Procrastination, CultureWorx’ CEO, Dr. Donte Vaughn, who is also a member of the Forbes Business Council, shares his best mental hacks for staying on top of tasks that need to get done.

“Rate the importance of every task on a prioritization scale based upon criticality and time sensitivity. The most critical and time-sensitive items take priority. You would be surprised how often we procrastinate in response to feeling overwhelmed by what we think “must get done.” Remember: Not every emergency requires your urgency, and things that require urgency are not always an emergency!”

Productivity tips from other council members included leveraging an accountability partner and daily planner, as well as logging out of social media to break the automatic cycle of checking in on your platforms. Doing the most difficult task first was a common thread suggested by the contributors.

Dr. Vaughn joined the Forbes Business Council recently, bringing his expertise in organizational leadership, workforce management, and company culture to the invitation-only community.

Forbes Councils is a collective of invitation-only communities created in partnership with Forbes and the expert community builders who founded Young Entrepreneur Council. In Forbes Councils, exceptional business owners and leaders come together with the people and resources that can help them thrive.

Read the Full Article

Forbes Business Council: 13 Real Estate Investment Trends To Watch As Work From Home Continues

Working from home and flexible work arrangements have impacted the commercial real estate industry in a big way. In this recent Forbes Business Council article, 13 Real Estate Investment Trends To Watch As Work From Home Continues, CultureWorx’ CEO, Dr. Donte Vaughn, who is also a member of the Forbes Business Council, shares insights on the properties and workspaces he believes will be most valuable to real estate developers and investors in the future.

“Flexible work arrangements may influence how business leaders value the use of large commercial space including offices, on-site retail, etc. Commercial real estate investors should consider space that promotes open floor concepts, shared workspaces for hybrid staffing models and even smaller square-footage options for organizations that choose to decentralize or allow for staff to work from home.”

Insights from other council members emphasized the value of high-caliber amenities and technologically advanced workspaces, as well as as-needed office spaces, and even residential units with dedicated workspaces. See what other council members said about the future of the real estate industry.

Dr. Vaughn joined the Forbes Business Council recently, bringing his expertise in organizational leadership, workforce management, and company culture to the invitation-only community.

Forbes Councils is a collective of invitation-only communities created in partnership with Forbes and the expert community builders who founded Young Entrepreneur Council. In Forbes Councils, exceptional business owners and leaders come together with the people and resources that can help them thrive.

Read the Full Article

How to Revive Your Company’s Culture for Good

Many of the most engaged business leaders are beginning to acknowledge an elephant in the room: their company culture is dead or on life support. While you may have company values that exist in theory, your company culture may not reflect the leadership behaviors and interactions that represent these values. If you need to revive your company’s culture, it’s time you learned about Cultural CPR.

In a new eBook: Breathing Life into Your Company Culture, we dive into Cultural “CPR,” which stands for Consciousness, Practice, and Results. We break down each of these steps and dissect the hard truths of creating cultural consciousness, sustaining it through daily practices, and measuring and managing the results. So what does this all mean? Here’s a quick look into this resuscitation process for businesses.

  • Cultural consciousness means everyone in your organization understands how your company values and beliefs impact their own work experience. They become accountable for the behaviors and interactions that embody a stronger company culture. Creating cultural consciousness means your company values, belief statements, and standards of behavior are documented and shared by all. Take this 10-question assessment to determine your company’s level of cultural consciousness.
  • Practicing the behaviors that comprise your desired company culture is the responsibility of your leadership team. They are the ones who set the standard for what is considered acceptable behavior. Practicing company culture requires daily education, observation, and rehearsal to improve how individuals interact with one another when performing throughout the day.
  • Results are achieved by measuring how your leaders engage with employees within the organization and the specific impact they have on your business. You can measure the results of your cultural practices by quantifying the frequency of quality interactions between leaders and employees, as well as quality of leadership decision-making and front-line productivity.

These steps are actionable, repeatable, and proven, but that doesn’t mean the process is easy. Reviving your organizational culture and applying Cultural CPR can be challenging. It’s important to stay committed in your approach and to defend your company culture at all costs. For the full breakdown of Cultural CPR and how to use it to revive your company’s culture, download the complete eBook now!

Read eBook »

To engage the Cultural CPR experts, get in touch.

Is Managing Your Company Culture More Like QA or QC? You Make the Call.

When most industrial operations leaders are asked, “What is your Quality Assurance (QA) or Quality Control (QC) process and performance result for your business,” a credible response is typically provided. If the same question is asked about your company’s Cultural Performance Management process and results, could you respond? Most cannot. What if you considered the QA & QC process in the context of cultural performance management? When exploring your current approach to developing and delivering on your company culture, many business leaders may find that their processes may be more like a QA or QC process than initially realized. Knowing the answer to this question will illuminate options for you to consider when implementing, improving, and sustaining your desired company culture.

While both QA and QC approaches have the potential to add value and improve business performance, it is essential to note that they are different. When you consider your own quality management process, which approach do you believe is like your current approach when attempting to develop and implement the leadership culture that you believe is paramount to achieving optimal operational performance outcomes. It is your leaders’ responsibility to implement this process to achieve real Cultural Integrity, which is our way of saying – ‘you act according to our company values.’

Let’s take a closer look at this comparison.

Our argument is framed with one truth: the inputs from your cultural performance management processes determine the outcomes, which are centered around your employees’ experiences. This is relevant when you consider your employee experiences to be the result of your leadership behaviors, interactions, decision making, and management approach.  The same principles apply to QA and QC inputs that drive quality performance outcomes.

Understanding the QA and QC Approaches:

Which Quality Management approach aligns with your current Cultural Performance Management process?
Process “assurance” or process “control”?

When applying a quality assurance approach to Cultural Performance Management, leaders ensure the right behaviors, interactions, and decisions are 100% aligned to your company’s cultural values. Proactive management tools are typically used throughout the management process to ensure, in real-time, that the right inputs are happening the right way and at the right time to assure optimal quality is a likely outcome. When proactively ‘assuring’ the outcomes of your company culture, the quality of your employee experience is the result of high-quality management and leadership inputs.

Like a quality control process, corrective cultural performance management tools and processes are used to measure the ‘quality’ of leadership engagement after the leadership behaviors and interactions have produced the employee experience. This is a more reactive method, as the data derived from these tools, like engagement surveys, is gathered, synthesized, analyzed, and then used to determine what adjustments should be made to improve leadership behaviors and interactions in the future.

Process-oriented or product-oriented?

A process-oriented Cultural Performance Management approach is focused on making sure the right values, behaviors, skills, and interactions are built into each step of your process for facilitating your business. They are known and demonstrated by the leadership team in all they say and do.

A product-oriented Cultural Performance Management approach focuses on the attitudes and opinions of the employees. Your employees’ evaluations of your leadership team determine whether they are effective or not based on these employees’ personal experiences.

Proactive strategy or reactive strategy?

A proactive Cultural Performance Management strategy seeks to ensure company leaders are skilled, prepared, and developed in advance to interactions (Cultural Connections) that may occur with other employees. Proactive management means the company leaders know when, where, and how to apply these behaviors and interactions to produce the employee experiences that match the desired cultural performance outcomes.

A reactive Cultural Performance Management strategy seeks to let all the leadership behaviors and interactions occur first, and then measure these inputs (outcomes) through employee opinion or pulsing surveys. These approaches are considered reactive because the perceived outcomes are determined after the leaders’ review of the survey data to determine how best to adjust how leaders behave and interact in the future. Reactive means the company leaders only know, after the fact, how their actions have shaped the employee experience, and how to potentially adjust moving forward.

Prevention of defects or detection of defects?

Prevention of defects within a Cultural Performance Management system means the leaders are making sure the ‘defective’, or less desirable leadership behaviors and interactions do not happen in the first place. They ensure ineffective leadership behaviors and interactions are removed or reduced before they negatively impact the employee experience.

Detection of defects within a Cultural Performance Management system uses the employees’ personal perceptions (opinions, feelings, and emotions) as the measurement of leadership performance. For example, suppose an organization’s Employee Engagement Survey Score is low. In that case, it is inferred that the management behaviors and interactions need to be adjusted to ensure each employee’s opinions, feelings, and emotions are satisfied.

Shared responsibility or individualized responsibility?

Suppose your cultural performance development, measurement, data gathering, and improvement efforts reside within each teams’ daily collective efforts. In that case, your cultural performance management methods are shared among every leader within the organization, like a QA approach.

If your cultural performance development, measurement, data gathering, and improvement efforts reside within a singular group, such as Human Resources, then your cultural performance management methods are considered an individualized responsibility, like a QC Technicians’ role in controlling product quality.

Performed in parallel with, or after, the final product is ready?

If your company’s Cultural Performance Management processes are intertwined with the management operating system for the daily execution of the business, then your leaders’ behavioral practices and decision-making are exhibited in parallel with all other management activities.

If your Cultural Performance Management processes are considered secondary, or ancillary, to your core management operating system for executing your business daily, then your leadership actions and decision making is adjusted after the ‘final product’ is produced (i.e., responding to the outcomes of the leadership behaviors and interactions that have already impacted the employee experience).

Now that you have considered the two quality-management approaches of QA and QC, which cultural performance management process is your company using?
Does your company adopt a Cultural Performance “Assurance” process (QA) or a Cultural Performance “Control” process (QC)?  Whichever approach your organization uses, understanding how your company’s leadership culture impacts your operational performance is critical to optimizing your business success.

Your Company Culture Vaccine: Accept It or Reject It?

As the COVID-19 vaccination roll-out continues across the United States and globally, many individuals have pondered whether to be vaccinated or not. Some people have expressed personal reservations, hesitancies, or even blatant disapproval of the vaccine, while others have embraced it with a sense of ease, comfort, and hope. According to an online survey of 5,537 Americans conducted by Invisibly between December 4 and 14, 2020 revealed only 53% of Americans indicated they were willing to get the vaccine (47% unlikely).

When considering the buy-in, adoption, or adherence to your company culture, this phenomenon is a great example to use as an analogy to examine how an individual’s personal perceptions and differing values may clash or coincide with your company values or cultural vision. As a business leader seeking to understand why employees are either engaged or disengaged in your company culture, take a journey with us as we leverage this real-time example to present practical approaches for you to ensure the successful implementation and sustainability of your desired company culture.

Your Culture Vaccine.

Cultural Buy-In and Leader Engagement are Linked

How many times have you been asked, “Are you vaccinated”? For some, this question has been raised countless times. Now, consider this question in the context of company culture: Are your employees genuinely bought-in and engaged with your cultural values and practices? Have they taken your Culture Vaccine? Your employees’ answer to this question is a harbinger of your employee turnover rates, engagement survey results, and overall company performance. You may find that your employees’ answers will be split between those who are, those who are unsure, and those who are not bought-in to your company culture yet show up to work every day.

Does this make you uncomfortable or uneasy? It should. Let us explore why.

On January 7th, 2021, Patrick Cawley, Chief Executive Officer of the Medical University of South Carolina Health suggested the hospital’s initial vaccine response rates tracked with studies that show people split roughly into three categories: those who receive the vaccine immediately, those who apply a ‘wait-and-see’ approach, and those who decline the vaccine. In response to over 24 separate studies regarding the general public’s response to the COVID-19 Vaccine, Cawley stated “A third [of the population] take the vaccine right away. They will schedule it almost as soon as they can get it. And then a third [of the population] will not schedule right away. They say they want it, but they do not want to take it right away. They are scheduling [the vaccination] on the end of our scheduling [cycle]. And then you [have] about a third [of the population] who are not going to take it right now. They’re [subsequently] saying absolutely no.”

Ironically, a similar trend is prevalent among leaders and employees within the workplace when it comes to buy-in and adoption of your company culture. An example of data stemming from a wide variety of employee engagement/experience survey studies revealed approximately 33% of US employees report feeling engaged by their leaders, 33% moderately engaged, and 33% completely disengaged. The level of perceived disengagement from the leaders is a direct reflection of their understanding, buy-in, alignment, or ownership of their company’s cultural vision and practices.
You may question – why do we see similarities in these two trends that otherwise seem unrelated? The answer is simple. The factors that have contributed to the general population’s hesitancy to receive the COVID-19 vaccine are related to the factors that have influenced how your leaders and employees understand and respond to your company culture. Let us take a closer look.

Herd Immunity versus a “Herd Culture”:

When leaders attempt to communicate their desired company culture, typically through sharing their vision for how specific values and behaviors [when practiced] will lead to effective engagement and subsequently drive positive business outcomes, most fail to consider the level of understanding, adoption, or buy-in required to perpetuate and sustain this culture. This is the act of achieving a “Herd Culture”. Sound familiar? Consider this concept in relation to vaccinations. According to Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, the objective of promoting vaccinations is to achieve “herd immunity” to drive a sustained resistance to the spread of the infectious disease within the population (positive outcomes for all). Dr. Fauci explained, to reach herd immunity, 75% to 85% of the general population will need to get vaccinated.

Imagine achieving a Herd Culture where 75% to 85% of your leaders fully understand and demonstrate the behaviors and interactions comprising your company values. Thus, the culture is then perpetuated through the organization, with every employee.  What would this mean for your business outcomes? The unfortunate reality is this ‘herd immunity’ level of cultural adoption, as exhibited by the level of engagement reported from leaders by employees, is over twice the current level of engagement reported nationally.

When attempting to achieve a “herd culture” let us consider what the experts like Dr. Fauci and others have done to reach a point of herd immunity. It begins with addressing what influences the populations’ hesitancies to receive the vaccination in the first place.

Importance of Communication & Education:

Ownership and adoption of your company culture begin with your leaders. Failure to achieve the level of buy-in to your company culture vision and associated practices often relates to bottlenecks in your approach to communicating this vision and educating your employees to ensure they adopt a clear and aligned understanding of how your company values must be demonstrated through specific behaviors and interactions. In a recent Kaiser survey, 15% of adults who said they would “definitely not” get a COVID-19 vaccine, more than half of the respondents (53%) had not received education beyond high school. Alternatively, those who reported they would get the vaccine “as soon as possible” were most likely to have at least a college degree. Considering the results of this study, how well did advocates of the COVID-19 vaccination provide effective communication and education surrounding the vaccine and its benefits. Some may argue that very little consideration was made regarding the education level of the general population and the validation of their understanding. Thus, hesitant, and reluctant parties increased due to misguided uncertainty.

When sharing your cultural vision and the expectations surrounding how individuals should engage with one another, consider, how is an employee supposed to adhere to your company values when they are not “educated” on the behaviors that produce these values?  The definition and meaning of the company values are often a mystery to employees due to a lack of clarity and ineffective articulation of how to practice the behaviors that exemplify these values. The behaviors managers demonstrate to exhibit values serve as the foundation by which front-line employees will begin to frame how they should behave and interact with one another, hence the importance of promoting education regarding how to effectively practice these behaviors daily.

Mitigating the “Wait and See” Culture:

Some leaders report struggles related to the adoption of their desired culture, even after a strong communication and education strategy has been implemented. This is often related to individuals looking to other influential team members to act on the cultural performance expectations first. We call this the “Wait and See” Culture. The experts we spoke with indicated that most healthcare workers who are reluctant to get the COVID-19 vaccine immediately are not necessarily refusing it indefinitely. Alison Buttenheim, a faculty member at Penn Nursing and the Perelman School of Medicine, and scientific director for the Center for Health Incentives and Behavioral Economics stated “[many nurses] are in a wait-and-see mode: [making statements like] I wouldn’t mind if a few more million people got it before I did”. Despite robust safety and efficacy data, they want to see more real-world proof first.

Relating to the adoption of your company culture, many employees want to see the leadership team as 100% effective in displaying the company values resulting in positive outcomes. Failure to observe the leadership teams’ ownership and accountability to the company culture often created questions of integrity and overall distrust among employees. Employees will never trust and adopt the company values until they see the managers absorb or inject these same values into their own behavioral repertoire.

The History of your Culture Matters:

Some organizations struggle with implementing their desired culture due to a history of counter-productive leadership cultures or contradictory leadership behaviors that existed in the past. While a leadership team’s intent may be driven by a genuine desire to foster a positive workplace culture, the actions of leaders from the past often have everlasting implications on how existing or new employees perceive the organization. This same principle was proven true when considering the adoption of the COVID-19 vaccination, even among healthcare workers. There are historical reasons for health care workers of color to be skeptical about getting an early health intervention.

Approximately 40% of health care workers in the U.S. are people of color. A deep history of institutionalized medical racism exists; meaning people of color have frequently been subjects of unethical experiments or mistreatment in the U.S., often sowing justified mistrust in the medical establishment. Unfortunately, due also to centuries of systemic racism, many of these groups have also been among those most impacted by the pandemic.

Consider how your employee perceives your current-state culture, either through their personal experiences or word-of-mouth, and be prepared to respond with empathy while articulating the actions taken to counter those perceptions.

Furthermore, as the workforce has become more diversified, leaders must build a strong cultural consciousness regarding various groups from different personal and professional backgrounds who may have differing perceptions and expectations regarding specific management behaviors.  The action of building and displaying behaviors associated with company values, such as Trust, Integrity, Equity, Inclusion, etc., may differ between these groups. Therefore, leaders will have to work to establish a common language surrounding their company culture. This will ensure leaders and employees can align on expectations and increase effective communications, all requirements for effective employee engagement.

When companies espouse their Values and display them to the world for everyone to see, they are telling all stakeholders that “this is who we are, this is how we operate, and this is what you should expect and experience when working with us. They are being prescriptive. They are showing you their cultural DNA. Leaders must ask themselves, “Are these companies serious or not?  Is it therefore acceptable to have leaders and managers who do not behave with 100% alignment to the behaviors that exhibit the company Values?  If you answer ‘no’ to the second question, then you have real cultural integrity. Remember, you promote what you permit.

Understanding the Result of Your Company Culture: Proactive vs. Reactive

Business leaders across all industry verticals are gradually realizing the importance – better yet – the necessity of examining their company culture and its impact on their business. The most innovative leaders are recognizing the pursuit of achieving operational excellence requires a strategic look at all components of one’s business beyond the systems and processes that support it. Your company culture, as defined by the values system that exist within an organization, the consciousness that internal stakeholders have around these value systems, and your leadership team’s ability to exhibit and practice the behaviors that espouse those values, makes the difference between realizing positive or negative outcomes for your business. When the dust settles on your business for the current year, and you examine your company culture vision for the new year, how will you measure the results of your company culture? What was your cultural performance score? It is time to examine if you are exploring the results (impact) of your company culture through a Proactive or Reactive lens.

Reactive Results:

Most organizational leaders do not know how to proactively measure or manage their company culture, thus, understanding the results of their culture becomes challenging.  Most organizations have adopted reactive methods to attempt to understand how their leaders are driving their company culture vision with common tools such as Employee Engagement Surveys, Pulse Surveys, Net Promoter Scores, etc. I am not suggesting these tools do not have a role in the management of company culture. They do have a time and place. Short-interval or periodic solicitation of perceptions and insights can provide information that informs an organization, as a moment-in-time, how the general population of employees or leaders perceives their experience. You can generate insights, learn from perspectives, and promote engagement and collaboration using these tools. However, the general nature and construct of these tools yields reactive or ‘lagging’ indicators of performance.

To proactively measure workplace culture, understand how it translates into leader or business performance, and determine how to improve it, these tools simply miss the mark.

Many survey tools solicit reactive insights from employees that include their personal and anecdotal perceptions regarding individualized workplace experiences and opinions of leaders. These insights are often compiled, synthesized, and used to form generalizations about the organizational culture. These reactive generalizations are then used as the basis for developing strategies to “improve” the workplace culture. There are many issues with this approach. One fundamental issue with this approach is the generalizations developed from these reactive survey results are derived from the interpreter’s casual correlations between employee perceptions and the performance outcomes of their leaders and the business. There are no direct links that clarify and validate the specific factors contributing to the employee’s perceptions (or misperceptions) of their experience. Root-cause analysis of the factors that contributed to the survey results and the objective linkage to the cultural performance of the company never occurs. Thus, the cultural improvement strategies that stem from these results are also reactive, circumstantial, and fail to have a sustainable impact.

Proactive Results:

Fixing employee engagement begins with a proactive understanding of how and why employees are engaged in the first place. Creating ownership and accountability surrounding your company culture from a more proactive point of view must begin with correlating behavioral expectations of your leaders with outcomes. You achieve this by measuring how your leaders engage with employees within the organization and the specific effect these engagements have on driving positive business results. By establishing visibility regarding when leaders fail to exhibit the behaviors that align with your company values, and the implications of these failures, you will prompt proactive action to address them. You will not have to wait for the results of engagement surveys as the primary indicator of how leaders are positively or negatively contributing to the employee experience. Leaders will need to act. They will need to “step up.” The same applies to your identifying the positive leadership behaviors and practices that align with your company’s values. This real-time approach to measuring how your leaders engage with employees and how these engagements align with your company culture enables causal correlations to your leader’s and employee’s experiences.

  • Indicators to consider when proactively measuring the results of your cultural practices:
  • Has the frequency and quality of the interactions between leaders and employees changed? For example, has it improved?
  • Has the quality of your leader’s decision-making improved? For instance, did the leadership address root-cause of issues?
  • Has your front-line team’s productivity shifted in alignment with the change in the level of leadership engagement, either positively or negatively?

Measuring cultural performance outcomes and the impact that these outcomes have on your business requires a correlation to specific performance indicators. When measuring results of your cultural performance, consider the tangible and intangible variables influenced by your leader’s behaviors and interactions, including productivity, employee or customer retention, sales acquisitions, safety incidences, employee engagement scores, and more.

Actively managing and measuring the results of your company culture is not a one-time initiative. It is an ongoing journey and needs steering at the required points of inflection. These points of inflection are best interpreted in real-time, where culture happens – on the front-line. It also requires continuous reinforcements and role modeling from the leadership team. Senior leaders must ensure the front-line leaders are kept engaged in actively promoting the desired company culture by showing them the impact created by the values, behaviors, and interactions on performance.

Contact the author to learn more about how to proactively measure and manage your company culture and the results that stem from your efforts.

Fake Leaders Create Fake Cultures

How to Spot a Fraudulent Company Culture

In recent months, we’ve seen a lot of organizations publicly touting their company values of diversity, inclusion, fairness, integrity, and trust, only to get called out later for not backing those lofty words up with any meaningful practice.

With so much focus and scrutiny lately on statements versus action in the business world, it’s time for us to get real, raw, and candid about company culture. Will this make some readers uncomfortable? Definitely. Is pushing through that discomfort part of the process? Absolutely.

Getting real means diving into honest and fearless self-reflection. It means turning an unblinking eye toward how we lead and contribute culturally in our workplaces.

Engagement scores are at a historic low right now, with only 22% of companies reporting any positive results. In light of this dismal statistic, we’re asking: How many organizations truly embody the values they claim are paramount to their cultural foundations? Moreover, do organizations know how to define, nurture, and manage this desired “culture,” or are these statements window-dressing to respond to what one believes the market wants to see or hear?

The following list provides tips for how to spot a fraudulent culture, and how to take your first steps to fix it.

1. Leaders do not “walk the talk.”

We all know the saying, “actions speak louder than words.” This rings true when you consider how a leaders’ actions (behaviors and interactions) align with an organization’s stated cultural values. As research has shown, people’s actions are the best way to gauge their real attitudes. Further, the results of those actions are what reveal an organization’s true culture and associated value systems.

For example, if you want to know whether to believe an organization that claims to value its employees and their contributions, simply ask a leader or an employee on the front-line of the business, “do you feel valued from the company?” and “can you reference the last act of appreciation shown to you by a leader or peer within the company?” That front-line team member’s response will begin to reveal how well leaders walk the talk!

IF YOU WANT TO KNOW WHETHER TO BELIEVE AN ORGANIZATION THAT CLAIMS TO VALUE ITS EMPLOYEES AND THEIR CONTRIBUTIONS, SIMPLY ASK A LEADER OR AN EMPLOYEE ON THE FRONT-LINE OF THE BUSINESS, “DO YOU FEEL VALUED FROM THE COMPANY?”

2. Leaders cannot explain a value’s worth to the business.

Consider anything of value to you in your life. Can you explain what it is worth to you? I bet most will say yes! Can you do the same about the core values that serve as the foundation of your organizational culture? An honest leader will say, “no.” A value is defined as something that is of high importance, worth, or usefulness. A collector of antique cars can speak to the worth of the car; its rareness, uniqueness, and how that car must, therefore, receive special care and protection. The same premise should apply to the company values, which are paramount to the business.

3. The “culture” is not sustainable.

Like a fake watch, a fake culture may look shiny and new at first, but it falls apart and tarnishes quickly over time. If an organization’s values are not integrated into its leader’s daily language, practice, and measure of performance, then the organization’s culture will come across as  merely superficial..REMA 1000 CEO Henrik Burkal once said, “You know a corporate values program is doomed to fail when they start printing mouse mats with the values.”

Ask yourself how many mouse mats, picture frames, and drink cups have you seen with your company’s values printed on them, and then ask yourself why?

4. See no values, speak no values, hear no values.

Often a company’s values are not visible and come up rarely in daily discussions (especially when leaders are making important decisions). Furthermore, no one in the organization can articulate the behaviors that produce the values. Don’t believe me? Just ask your team. If no one from your team can articulate the behaviors they need to exhibit those values, you must question the values’ authenticity.

The caveat to this point is that a leader should not have to keep reminding their staff about the values because your organization lives them out in their actions and decisions on a daily basis. The company values that form a company’s culture should become obvious. There should be no need to over-market your company culture!

THE COMPANY VALUES THAT FORM A COMPANY’S CULTURE SHOULD BECOME OBVIOUS.

5. Leaders reference company values only when convenient.

Some leaders speak their values and leverage the premise behind them when appropriate; however, when the going gets tough in a business, those same leaders abandon their much-touted principles for an easier path.

For example, we once engaged a client that espoused having a “people first” culture. Yet, when things got a bit hectic, they always reverted to their autocratic default style, where people were in fact the last point of consideration or engagement. Their “people first” culture did not ring true. It was simply window dressing. If you find that your organization’s company values are only referenced to validate what others want to hear instead of allowing actions and decision to “speak” for the values, then you may have a disingenuous culture on your hands.

6. The company’s value statements aren’t even their own.

Did you know that 80 percent of the Fortune 100 tout their values publicly, and among that group, 80 percent of them share the same values, almost word-for-word? Have you ever asked yourself why? The reality is many companies have hired “strategists” who all cherry-pick from the same popularly used values.

This is not to suggest that some companies do not genuinely believe these values are important to their business. However, many do not genuinely believe in, embody, or practice these values daily. Many organizations have copied from other organizations or written values to satisfy desired perceptions. They become an ornament for the company instead of the framework for how leaders engage and interact to drive results for the business.

7. No harm, no foul.

Nothing kills a great culture faster than employees watching a leadership team tolerate a bad one. In other words, where there are no consequences for management behaviors that are not aligned with an organization’s stated values, there is no accountability to the culture you wish to create. Consider a quote once shared by a past client: “You promote what you permit.” What you permit becomes your REAL culture.

So, are you uncomfortable now? Are you self-reflecting as a leader? Good. Let the truth guide your next steps. Don’t just sit there. Make your culture real. Create real cultural integrity.