There’s a common thread that flows from believing in the company and clearly understanding how to be successful in a job. It’s comprised of expectations, logic, transparency and consistency. The culture is not something you actively build. It’s something that results from the decision making, logic, transparency, consistency, conduct, and behavior of leadership and cascaded expectations from the top to the bottom of the organization.
It starts with a leadership team that shares “the vision”. I don’t mean a vision statement on a placard in the lobby. I mean something tangible. For example, a leader that believes profit will follow making the customer’s life easy, delivering on commitments, and being fair in negotiations can make such a statement to the organization. Then comes the test. Remember, this is about culture.
Leaders have to follow through on their stated vision with consistent, logical decision making that passes the smell test for alignment with the stated vision. Once they do something like delay kicking off the critical path tooling for 6 weeks, to push funding into the next quarter, for a customer project so they “make their numbers” to get a bonus, the rest of the organization is correct to question their commitment to the vision. Not only that, but when their decision makes the project 6 weeks late and they criticize the project team for not making up the time, the rank and file see right through supposed leaders. It still creates a culture; just not the one that leadership had hoped for.
If leaders stick to their vision by making consistent, logical decisions that align with the vision, they need to set expectations for the next level of management. They need to define the expected output of their managers. A dedicated inputs/outputs (SIPOC) discussion needs to be had between Vice Presidents and the managers that report to them to set expectations. This step is almost always skipped because the assumption is their managers know what to do and it would be overkill to “state the obvious”. It’s a fatal mistake to fail to clearly define expected outputs and allow the manager to define the inputs they require to get the job done. Understanding expectations is critical to a fun, productive, successful culture.
The inputs/outputs conversation doesn’t need to list every bit of minutia to get the job done. You can skip “order more paperclips when you run low”. Using Engineering as an example you could say that their expected output in a new product development project is to create drawings for the product that meets performance and budget expectations. The Engineering manager could reply that required inputs are performance specifications, budget, and project timing. They might be inclined to guess that things like CAD or DFMEA’s are part of their expected output, but those are just their tools of the trade required to create the drawings that Purchasing and Manufacturing can use to do their jobs.
To ensure the culture is spread from the top of the organization to the people doing the work, the expectations have to be cascaded down through every level of the organization. What starts out as a general statement that “we’ll make customer’s lives easy, deliver on commitments, and be fair in negotiations” at the top of the organization distills down to “achieve 37 second cycle time on operation 9” for the manufacturing engineer or process operator. Seeing the connectivity from top to bottom with consistent, logical decision making builds a predictable, reliable environment which is fertile ground for a fun, productive, successful culture.
A March 11, 2022 Forbes article titled “What is Company Culture” says having a customer-first philosophy, be transparent with employees, always be learning, demonstrate respect, fail fast, fail publicly, and a “do it now” mentality as values will create an amazing culture. I believe that placard statements or one-off “ask me anything” transparency meetings fall short of creating a culture that everybody wants to be a part of and other companies want to recruit from. It’s more than an event. It’s more than a team building social gathering. It’s the communication and consistency in every action taken every day.
I’ve been on teams that had remarkable cultures within organizations that had poor overall cultures. We didn’t need the organization to hold us accountable. Our self-accountability dominated because we all shared the same project vision and had clear expectations. So, we were naturally attentive to results. The only downfall of experiencing a magical culture is when the project is over or people get reassigned to other teams more aligned with the poor company culture, they are often dissatisfied and consider leaving the company.
The points just made are a high level walk from vision to expectations to accountability. There are countless micro-behaviors that will contribute to the constantly being defined culture. Some examples include:
Do you follow up? It’s one thing to EXpect a thing to get done; it’s another level of engagement to INSpect to be sure that it was actually done. Do you assign things to people by forwarding an email or do you discuss it with them face to face? Do you attempt to hold people accountable to an outcome without discussing the specific expected output and allowing a reasonable time to get the thing done? Do you walk by the assembly line without talking to the operators? Do they even know your name? Do you know theirs? Do you tolerate disorder and unclean work areas or do you expect everything to be in its place? How clean are the washrooms and how many light bulbs are burnt out in them? Do you tolerate unsafe actions or working conditions? When someone quits do you expect one of their peers to pick up the work or do you replace them? Do you do what it takes or “do your best”? If it takes more than you have to give do you solve the resource limit or do you live with substandard results? Does politics have a place in your organization or are people rewarded based on merit? Do the “good” people watch you tolerate the lack of productivity of the “bad” people or are there consequences for not delivering on reasonable expectations?
The point is that every action and inaction places a brick in the foundation of the culture is being created. “Is being created” is intentionally chosen language. Culture isn’t something you necessarily directly build. It happens. It’s the result of doing things. As much as it’s out of fashion to point out the difference between right and wrong behavior, your resultant culture will betray whether your organization, top to bottom, does things right or does things wrong. You WILL create a culture by your actions. Whether it’s amazing or toxic depends on the concepts discussed above.