Improving your company culture is simple but not easy. Culture transformation is a result of embedding your core values in everything you do. So, that’s the simple part – just tweaking what you already do. But sometimes the execution that gets tricky. It’s best to identify a handful of small, low-cost items that you can do quickly to improve your culture and get started. A journey of 10,000 miles begins with a single step. And, remember that improving your culture improves employee retention, productivity and profitability. It’s an investment that pays big dividends.
Here are six surprisingly low-cost hacks that can help you kickstart a culture transformation.
1. Hire only people who pass your values test.
This hack assumes that your company has established core values. (If not, please read my book to find out how to identify your company’s core values on page 35.) Once you know those guiding principles, be sure that all prospective employees can abide by them, as demonstrated by previous actions. In your hiring interviews, ask behaviorally-based questions about how the candidate has exemplified each of your values. For example, if one of your values is integrity, you might ask a question like, “Tell me about a time that you did the right thing even though it was inconvenient?” Then, listen carefully for 1) if the candidate can access a memory of such a time at all and 2) what it involved. Did the candidate did the honorable thing when no one was watching? Was it a big deal or a small deal? Remember that small deeds are often reflective of that person’s character.
One company that I work with created a list of seven values questions and defined criteria for ratings of each of the values. If a candidate does not pass the values test, then that person does not advance in the hiring process and is told they will not be considered for the position. By probing about values in the beginning, you can often avoid the mistake of hiring a “brilliant jerk” who has the skills for the position but doesn’t fit into your cultural norms and behaviors.
2. Ask your employees to identify their personal core values.
Research shows that when employees at all levels of the company identify and understand their own personal values, they can match them to the company’s values. By doing this, employees become not only more dedicated to the company values but more effective and efficient in their jobs. They understand how their own deeply-held beliefs can be enlivened by their work at the company.
There are many ways to help your employees articulate their core values. You can provide a comprehensive list of common values and have each person circle their top 10, then narrow them down to five most important. I like to provide participants in my workshops with “Values cards” by Drs. Barry Kouzes and James Posner, available at Amazon, and ask them to sort them into piles to select their top five.
3. Terminate employees that can’t or won’t live out the core values.
There is nothing more impactful to your company culture than terminating a “brilliant jerk”. Too many times, company leadership tolerates great performers, even when they create a trail of dead bodies (so to speak) in their wake. You know them: The sales VP who destroys employees’ self-esteem but sweet-talks the customers. The newly minted MBA who intimidates everyone with her rebuttal of their ideas. The brilliant technician who can stifle collaboration with his ridicule.
Many companies include an assessment of how each employee exemplifies the core values in their performance evaluations. If an employee “flunks” the values assessment, managers must start corrective action. Alternatively, bi-annual 360 degree assessments of all employees can identify the brilliant jerks, if you ask questions about how the employee abides by the core values.
The safest way to terminate “brilliant jerks” is through the traditional progressive discipline process, which advances from a verbal warning to written warning and then termination. While I always encourage straightforward communication with your employees, there are other actions that will enhance direct communication of your disappointment in their performance, including reducing bonuses, promotions and responsibilities.
4. Train and coach your leaders.
The most effective way to change culture is to change the way managers lead. Leaders set the tone for the organization: If leaders do not exemplify core values in their behaviors and decisions, the core values are rendered worthless and become a sham. Effective leadership training starts with new employee training that teaches the company’s core values and the behaviors that are acceptable and are encouraged.
Research shows that leadership training does a great job of exposing participants to new ideas, but training plus professional coaching truly effects behaviors and results. According to a Baruch College study (1997) of 31 public-sector managers, a training program alone increased productivity 28 percent, but the addition of follow-up coaching to the training increased productivity 88 percent, as the following graph illustrates:
At one company I worked with, the coaching program starts with The Leadership Challenge training, which includes a comprehensive 360-degree assessment. After the training, participants and their coaches create a development plan from the 360-degree feedback. Then, coach and participant present the development plan to the participant’s manager for approval. The coach and participant work on the development plan for 9 months. Post-coaching surveys show noticeable behavioral and results changes (as seen above).
5. Create a schedule of regularly held meetings - and create rituals for them.
Communicate often to your team members to ensure that they have a chance to learn and share information about the business. The best-run companies I work with create a cadence of meetings that include one-on-one meetings between team member and manager, team meetings and all-hands meetings. You might use a template like this to plan your meeting schedule:
Kristin Robertson, CEO of Brio Leadership, is dedicated to increasing the number of employees who are excited to go to work on Monday mornings. Services include executive coaching, leadership development classes and company culture consulting. Don’t forget to get a copy of Kristin Robertson’s new book, Your Company Culture Ecosystem, available on Amazon.Meeting rituals are repetitive and ceremonious activities that provide meaning and constancy. They are the activities that show up on all meeting agendas. For example, you might start a meeting by asking each participant to share something positive in their life. Going around the table, team members share a recent success, either in their personal or professional life. Although it takes a few minutes, this type of ritual is an investment in the strength of the team, bonding people together as they share something of personal significance. Another ritual could be reading aloud customer compliments or recognizing someone for an action that exemplifies the core values. These rituals of recognition encourage positive behaviors and show appreciation to team members.
6. Serve food to your team members.
Research proves that serving food to team members demonstrates manager’s caring for and appreciation of their team members. One executive, for example, brings in doughnuts every Friday morning for the entire team. When the company provides food for its employees, the food becomes a symbol of the company. Then what happens? Team members eat the food, ingesting a symbol of the company and incorporating it, literally, into their bodies. Serving food is a great way to embed a symbol of the company’s positive aspects in your workers. And, if you combine it with a values-based ritual, you are embedding the core values.
One company does this in a low-cost way by hosting a potluck meal each month for the entire team. The company provides the meat, drinks and the birthday cake (another ritual that binds a team together) and the team members bring side dishes. A potluck is a great way to level the hierarchies and boundaries within a company because each person brings something of their own making. Companies that eat together create better team work!
Does culture change cost a lot of money? No, but it takes a conscious effort on the part of the leaders to embed core values in everything you do. Try these six inexpensive hacks to transform your company culture.
This article is excerpted from Kristin Robertson's book called Your Company Culture Ecoysystem: How to Grow a Vibrant Business.
Kristin Robertson, CEO of Brio Leadership, is dedicated to increasing the number of employees who are excited to go to work on Monday mornings. Services include executive coaching, leadership development classes and company culture consulting. Don’t forget to get a copy of Kristin Robertson’s new book, Your Company Culture Ecosystem, available on Amazon.
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