Five Reasons You Need to Invest in Your Organizational Culture

dreamstime_9985169 modified sqby Jason Questor
Managing Partner, Programs and Practices

No matter what the initial topic of conversation, be it leadership / management development, project management, business analysis or sales / marketing, clients frequently ask how they can make real, lasting changes that will boost their business performance, from the top of the house to the bottom line and everywhere in between. And the answer is always “pay attention to the culture you are creating and sustaining every day, in everything you do and say”.

You cannot not have a culture. People working and just being together inevitably create one. Over time, beliefs, attitudes and behaviours gel into patterns and set into the concrete of what it takes to fit in and be successful in your organization. The set of expectations that others have of you, reward and punishment structures, the approach taken to address challenges and opportunities, who gets promoted, how groups large and small work together, how you service your customers, all of these contribute to the self-defined identity of the group. And it is you and your peers, as business leaders and managers, who have the greatest influence on how that culture is structured and how it operates, for good or for not so great.

Your culture will take on a life of its own, persisting and evolving as individuals and teams come and go, and actively changing anyone who must work within it.  This is what cultures inevitably do. The culture immediately identifies the group, internally and in the eyes of others: the culture of religions, national cultures, military cultures, police cultures, sports cultures, organizational cultures, your culture.

Look around at your people. The way they, as a group, are behaving, is a mirror being held up for you to learn from. Are they motivated, engaged, collaborative, achievement driven, customer and quality focused? Good for them. Good on you. If not, here are five reasons you need to take charge of your culture – understanding what your ideal culture would look like, measuring and acknowledging what it actually is today, and working strategically, tactically and operationally to close the gap.

  1. Talent Retention: People rarely quit their jobs. Primarily they quit their managers. Study after study has shown this to the extent that the saying has become an “old chestnut”. What are you doing about it? Gallup’s employee engagement study, released in April 2015, determined that managers account for up to 70% of variance in employee engagement. In the United States, less than one third of employees are engaged in any given year since Gallup started measuring in 2000.
  2. Talent Attraction: Your company has a reputation, you know. It is being shared in conversations, in social media and on “working there” websites. People who have the talent and skills your organization needs to succeed usually have a choice of where they work. And they are talking.
  3. Leaders and Managers: It is challenging to attract true people leaders and people managers. It is even harder to keep them when the culture they work in does not put a priority on their unique abilities to identify and harness the performance potential of their teams. Cultures that say the words around people being their most valuable resource but then treat those same people as commodities or machines hobble any efforts by true people leaders and managers. And so they leave. And their people follow them.
  4. Discretionary Effort and Productivity: Employee engagement and discretionary effort are inextricably linked. Are your people doing just enough to get by and not get into trouble? Do they comply grudgingly when an emergency situation demands extra work? Or do they actively engage in their work, enthusiastically bringing all their talents and skills to bear on every situation or task? Do they actively participate in growing your business, well beyond the official duty roster of their job functions? Cultures that demonstrate a genuine, caring commitment to “whole person” development for their staff, providing learning and growth opportunities as a component of everything people do every day reap the rewards. Those that don’t, don’t.
  5. Your Bottom Line: Individually and collectively, the items above will drive directly to your bottom line. Your customers will be served better. Your products and services will be of consistently high quality. Your brand and your reputation among customers will be enhanced. They will recommend you to their friends and colleagues. You will get more business. You will be able to attract and retain the best talent, and your people will actually look forward to coming to work, knowing that they are truly valued in an environment designed to bring out their very best.

From Alpha Guerilla:The Leadership Lessons ©2015 Jason Questor

ACHIEVEBLUE’s Culture Practice merges the world’s most powerful and widely used culture assessments with in-depth analysis, debriefing and action planning services to enable you to create and sustain the organizational culture that creates success. Click here for more information, or call Mona Mitchell or Jason Questor at 416-236-3005.

Day of the Champion

championby Jason Questor
Managing Partner, Programs and Practices

Succession planning is something that all of us acknowledge as critical, yet few of us do well. It is one of those things that is most conspicuous in its absence, especially when we lose a key resource without warning. All of a sudden, we have to juggle and dance because of projects to complete, customers to serve and deadlines to meet. Those left behind are left to scramble and try to fill in the gap, often with mixed results.

We must also consider ourselves in this picture. On my first day in my first management job, my boss told me that my first project was to find and train my replacement. I thought he was referring to my old job. He wasn’t. He meant my shiny new manager role. If I didn’t do this, how could I get eventually promoted to the next level?

Years ago, following a merger, my role and that of my counterpart in the other organization were a classic case of “who reports to whom now”. In that situation, my former peer, whom I will call Karen, became my report. Karen lamented that she had been in her current role for years, and although she had applied, had never been selected for promotion. Karen was highly talented and experienced, but had a tendency to never share what she knew, believing this was her only job security. I suggested that, perhaps, her unwillingness to delegate to and train up her team was a possible reason. Nobody could replace her so the company could not move her. We agreed on an apprenticeship program that had Karen identify her top three team members and, over the course of 6 months, create bench strength by sharing her knowledge and skills. In return, I would champion her for any role she wanted to move into, even though I really wanted her to stay. And it worked. For all of us.

We wear many hats in our people roles, including leader, manager, coach and mentor. Let’s add Champion to that list, because as a Champion for your team’s next step roles, you can help to retain your high powered talent.

Recently I designed and delivered a professional development program for a large client. Like many companies, they are experiencing the exodus of high power talent in strategically important areas. People genuinely enjoy working there, but often feel that the people in the positions they aspire to are not going anywhere anytime soon. In order to advance, some people believe they have to leave.

During our first requirements meeting, I was delighted when the sponsor indicated that the company was embarking on a Champion Program. Every manager in the company, all the way to the top, would be charged with identifying and becoming a champion for key resources, and to identify incentives for people to stay. Beyond promotion, ideas included cross-training, research sabbaticals, temporary allocation to other areas of the business and others. All of this would create more strategic players and teams.

The vision of the program is that a manager might become aware of something that one of their team members would really like to do next, to discuss this with them, and then to actively champion them towards the role in their discussions with other managers and departments. The immediate objection of “why would I want to lose my best people” is countered with “If they are not fulfilled by their current role and there is not much else you can offer them in it, you are going to lose them anyway. Isn’t it better to keep them inside the family?” In other words, think strategically, not operationally.

Great thought. Let’s do it.

From Alpha Guerilla:The Leadership Lessons ©2015 Jason Questor

ACHIEVEBLUE’s Lead to Succeed Program, created with our partner Canadian Manufacturers & Exporters, has been built on the decades long strength of the highly successful Compete to Win program, Lead to Succeed is a fully-realized foundation toolkit that equips your people with up to date, immediately actionable skills that make a real difference. For more information, click here.