Culture in modern business is everything. With a choice of places to work, top talent is now demanding workplaces which fit with their lifestyle. Millennials don’t just put up with a job - they see their job is as a part of them. It’s their life. It’s their identity. It's a part of who they are.
So, what's your company culture like?
A businesses 'Employee Experience' (EX) will affect it’s 'Customer Experience' (CX). Ultimately it will determine its success. Having happy and healthy employees who are motivated by what a brand stands for helps a business thrive. It will attract and retain the top talent and its people will be highly motivated. Customers notice.
But how do you get to this utopia of business life?
I define “culture” as the “collective behaviours, customs and beliefs of your people”. Whether you can define it clearly or not you will have a business culture. Most 'cultures' come into existence unconsciously - by accident. They usually form organically. At least initially. Cultures grow on the whim of individuals (usually company founders or prominent individuals within teams) with little or no thought or strategy involved. Occasionally this type of sporadic culture works. Most of the time they do not. They can breed “politics”, “siloed behaviours”, and “cliques”.
I’m an advocate for a more “designed” approach. The creation of a culture programme which is authentically and uniquely the companies. A culture which compliments and enhances the brand and customer experience.
Companies who take this approach find that "culture" can become an important leadership tool which, when nurtured, helps their business to thrive.
Having recently been working with a couple of clients on their culture and using design thinking to help launch new culture programmes I thought I’d share a high-level overview of how you can design a culture programme for your company. I hope it gives you a few ideas and thoughts for you to apply to your business culture. Here goes:
1. Align leadership
The first and most important thing to appreciate is that branding, culture and strategy really starts at the top with the decision-makers and leaders. Therefore it is key that whatever you decide it has the sponsorship of your leadership team and that at least some of them are involved in its creation. Your leaders need to take time to align on the high-level elements of “brand strategy” - why the brand exists beyond making money, who it exists to serve and why they should care. Time should be taken to listen to the organisation and figure out what it is that people truly value.
A key step is to consider your brand values and what behaviours these should be demonstrated in. For example if we value "innovation" then "creativity" would be a behaviour we would champion in our people. Sometimes I find that having leadership teams complete the following helps: "We value ____________ which means that our people ____________". See if you can summerise the last blank into a one-word behaviour.
Your brand strategy positioning statements, values and behaviours need documenting and launching into the organisation. Everyone needs to be aware and accountable to them.
However, they should not be simply words. They are leadership tools. Tools to hold everyone accountable. Lenses to view decisions. Stories to enhance business strategy. They need to be lived. Evidenced. Your values and behaviours, in particular, should be used in your culture building.
This is the first stage. To point all the leaders in the same direction. I have found the best way is for them to take some time out of working in the business - to working on the business. To invest their time. To commit to culture. To commit to brand. Consider having a series of workshops or away days to focus on the big questions and align. Ensure that budget has been assigned and one leader is empowered to build and create a culture programme with the other leader's support.
2. Identify your key culture activities
The next phase is to determine which cultural activities and initiatives that already exist within the business and which ones may need to be created.
Create a ‘Culture Steering Group’ of engaged members of staff. This group should meet regularly. Work with them to list out all the culture activities they know already exist. Then attempt to align them to the values. Do you have any gaps? Get your steering group to come up with new activities they would like and which marry to your values and behaviours.
An activity is a routine, reward or reminder (or a combination of these). They can be social or work-related but are sponsored by the business (either by allowing colleagues time to go, by advertising and promoting them or by a budget allocation). They can be peer to peer or leadership led. They need to happen at a frequency of at least one a year. Each one should connect to at least one value (e.g. to “prove” that you really do value that thing). Document clear objectives and reasons for holding the activity. What will success look like for this activity?
Culture activities are not simply about having fun. They can be serious. They are created to champion the behaviours which are linked to your values. They are there to help people build relationships and break down siloed behaviour. They are there to encourage and excite people. They create an employee experience which would be otherwise not available to your staff. This in term helps to give staff reasons other than money to remain in your business. They are used to keep talent and attract talent.
Ideally, therefore you would design a series of activities which happen throughout the year at different frequencies. These will align to your values “proving” to staff the brand really does value these behaviours and things.
3. Create a diagram
You must create a diagram for your culture. It's funny but I’ve found that when a “culture wheel”, “culture temple” or “culture pyramid” is launched suddenly people “get it”. A diagram helps to explain how each culture activity connects to your values. It’s a device which helps to put everything in a logical place. It’s something you can use in interviews to show potential talent about how amazing it is to work with you. You can use it in inductions to get new staff to sign up to activities which they might enjoy. Leadership can use it to remind themselves and their teams that the company does indeed live by its values and behaviours.
So - get to work on your diagram and ensure everything fits logically into it.
4. Create a roadmap, set targets, assign responsibilities and launch
It’s important to note that you don’t need to do everything at once. Perhaps you will set up one or two culture initiatives per quarter for example. It’s important to, therefore, create a roadmap explaining which initiatives will be live when and how you intend to get them live. Keep the business updated with how it’s going, which activities are available to them.
One way is to ensure that responsibility for each culture initiative is given to a colleague and that they find a deputy. They become a “Culture Champion”. It will be their job to set up the initiative, request relevant budget and invite their fellow team members. It will also be their job to report back on how it went. You could consider getting them to submit (or arrange to be submitted) something for the company extranet or newsletter. They should either be on or become one of the “Culture Steering Group”.
Ensure that you launch your “Culture Programme” into the business. Think about a "big bang" event. Perhaps consider doing it at a key annual event such as the Christmas Party. Do it with storytelling. Excitement. Passion for your people. Present your Culture Diagram. Explain you are launching it to help the company live into its brand values. To hold everyone accountable to the lofty behaviours we which to exhibit. To create a positive environment which allows people to build relationships, collaborate, innovate and communicate together. That it’s about the company giving something back to those who work so hard for it. Who would not want to hear this from their leaders?
5. Communicate & Validate
Have the “Culture Steering Group” meet regularly and have the “Culture Champions” report on how their events have gone. This does not have to be a huge meeting but maybe a stand-up or huddle. It’s important to question if the activity has been working. Is it fulfilling its objectives? Is it helping to encourage the types of behaviours we want? Does it illustrate our values in action? Does it create a positive employee experience?
Also, have delegates give feedback on what they think is working or not in the culture programme. Run a staff questionnaire - ask for ideas. Innovate. If an initiative is not well attended, find out why. It's ok to close it down if it is not well attended. Activities must create value for employees. If an activity is well-attended think about increasing its frequency. Consider adding in new initiatives based on submitted ideas and consider getting the submitter to head it up as a “Culture Champion”.
Ensure that leaders attend activities and also ensure that they are aware of the culture programme. Have at least one of the leadership team attend Culture Steering Group meetings. It’s important that they are visible and clearly support the culture programme.
It’s also important that your internal communications teams constantly report out to the wider business how the culture initiatives are going. This can be done via an extranet or company newsletter. This constant celebration of the company culture helps to breed positivity and awareness of the great customer experience your business is offering which would otherwise be not accessible to your people.
So there we are. A high-level five-step process which, if followed, would create a logical culture programme which could be explained, enjoyed and sustained in the future. It will be designed. Nothing would happen within it by chance or accident. It would be grass routes, run by staff but sponsored by leadership. It would use your company values and behaviours as a leadership tool to create positive employee experiences which in turn will create positive customer experiences.
Have fun designing your next culture programme and if you need a hand with it drop me a line!