A few years ago, I wrote an article on the conundrum of culture. Today, the topic of culture is more pervasive than ever in coaching and consulting circles. It’s rare to be on social media or a business publication without the mention of cultural assessments. Or how caring companies are working hard and investing dollars into differentiating their culture as one that attracts and keeps people. The annual spend per employee is about $2200, according to Gartner.
At the risk of being polarizing, here’s the shocker- culture is NOT the primary issue to focus on in organizations today.
What deserves the top prize instead? Making sure you have the right leaders, at the right time, who live, breathe and unwaveringly support and model the organization’s values and guiding principles. If this exists, culture takes care of itself.
Hang on. Yes, companies should have intention around culture. And, there are nuances to consider, like the attention required to integrate two or more cultures. If you acquire or merge with a completely different culture, you’re likely setting yourself up for a long road of assimilation according to this HBR article. There is a high failure rate associated with incompatible cultures. Two disparate cultures must learn to compromise, negotiate and form a covenant on the newly finessed culture of one.
Regardless of what may be translating into cultural pain, if you want to put your resources in the bucket that addresses the root cause and symptoms of an ailing culture, then invest in the right leaders who set the pace for culture.
Hire leaders who can prove they’ve demonstrated the values in other organizations and roles and ensure they’re compatible with the demands of the culture. Ask behavioral-based questions that undeniably align with the desired behaviors. If transparency is a value, questions such as, “Tell me about a time when you were asked to keep something that should have been disclosed a secret. How did you handle it?” or, “What’s an example of your most authentic or vulnerable moment as a leader?”
Set performance management and accountability measures around values and cultural synchronicity. Promote those who perform against values. Course-correct and ultimately let go of the ones who don’t. If values aren’t part of how leaders and team members are evaluated and rewarded, cultural integrity will fall through the cracks. Performance and curbside coaching conversations that highlight values-based behaviors are imperative.
Engage and reward cultural champions. Empower those who are well and favorably known for their consistency in walking out cultural norms. Embolden them to highlight when they see others who embody the values. Intentionally give shout outs at team meetings on a regular basis that perpetuate cultural and values congruency collectively and individually.
Because in the beginning, middle and end, “Leaders drive values, values drive behavior, behavior drives culture, and culture drives performance” - Martin Zwilling, Best-Selling Author