Culture: Translating Values into Behaviors

No doubt, you’re hearing a lot about company culture these days. It’s because a well-defined, activated culture helps employers attract top talent in a world where unemployment is low and competition for the best-of-the-best is at an all-time high. A strong culture means the most productive and valuable employees stay on board, while those less productive employees go looking elsewhere. A strong culture ensures everyone works in harmony to achieve unprecedented results. Indeed, culture is THE “thing” that makes a company successful these days.

But culture can be a somewhat nebulous and elusive concept and can mean different things to different people. So how do we get our arms around this “thing” called culture?

Fundamentally, it’s important to recognize that a company’s culture is more than a set of values painted on a wall, and it goes beyond a paragraph or two in the employee handbook. The culture is manifested in the behaviors of the people who lead and work within the company. It is exhibited in the way team members behave toward each other and toward customers. And it provides a framework for decision-making, serving as the North Star that guides leaders and team members in doing the “right” thing.

As leaders, how do we ensure that we and our people are exhibiting our company’s culture?  Here’s a roadmap:

First, identify and articulate behaviors that embody our company’s values

The key is to know what our company values look, sound, and feel like so that everyone—employees, customers, vendors, and other stakeholders—can recognize when our values are being demonstrated (or not).

For example, if collaboration is a cultural value, behaviors might be:

  • An employee shows that he is as effective as a team leader as he is as a team member
  • An employee works with another employee to help her meet an important deadline, even though it’s not part of his usual responsibilities
  • An employee goes above and beyond to help a coworker look good in the eyes of his superiors or clients

Second, lead by example

As leaders, the best way to move others to action is to first act ourselves. This is especially effective if we do so with vulnerability.

If integrity is a cultural value that we want others to emulate, here’s what we might do to lead the way:

  • Admit that we made a mistake or that we are weak in a particular area
  • Using compassion and empathy, tell a customer or employee something we know they don’t necessarily want to hear
  • Explicitly refuse to engage in petty gossip or office politics

Third, allow for practice and tolerate failure

Everyone will interpret the company’s culture a little differently, as perceived through a lens of their own unique personal and professional experiences. Most humans learn by trial and error—especially when it comes to very subjective concepts like company culture and values. Encourage people to practice demonstrating the behaviors we’re looking for. The best way to do that is to tolerate—and even encourage—an environment where people can fail.

If excellence is a cultural value, here’s how we might allow for failure:

  • Encourage a team member to accomplish something she’s never done before
  • Create a quality control system where each person has someone else double-check their work before it is delivered to a client
  • Give an employee unlimited authority to satisfy a disgruntled client

Fourth, incentivize and reward behaviors we’d like to see more of

Catch people doing it right (remember the one-minute praising?). According to Ken Blanchard, author of The One Minute Manager, taking 60 seconds to praise an employee’s good work can go a long way to reinforcing productive behaviors. Rewards don’t have to be monetary. Studies show that being praised in front of peers is more satisfying than monetary bonuses or a formal promotion.

If fun is the cultural value we want to see more of, we could try these:

  • Hand out a “you’re awesome” sticker to anyone we see demonstrating one of the company’s values
  • Commit to sing a solo at the next company meeting when the team accomplishes a notable goal
  • Give each employee a small budget to reward someone else for doing something that exemplifies the company’s values

We get it

When leaders and front-line employees alike embody the company’s culture, it’s easy to work there. Decisions on-the-fly tend to be the ‘right’ and best ones. There’s a harmony and unity throughout the company, which lead to measurable and positive outcomes, such as better efficiencies, lower turnover, improved client satisfaction, and higher profits.

If you’re ready to set yourself apart and recognize the need to go beyond the writing on the wall, Civilis can help. We help companies bring their cultures to life through our CULTURE ACTIVATION™ program.



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