workplace culture

The #1 Workplace Culture Challenge

The word “culture” has lost its meaning due to the proliferation of over-simplified and inconsistent workplace culture content that’s all over the popular press.  CEO’s know culture is important but there is a complete lack of clarity surrounding how evolving, shaping, leveraging, or changing it will help them overcome some of their greatest challenges and improve business results.

It’s a tremendous challenge to educate top leaders on how to effectively evolve their culture but that’s not THE greatest workplace culture challenge.  The #1 workplace culture challenge is convincing your CEO or top leader that some aspect of culture requires their personal attention.

How is culture impacting performance?

Why should they care?

Why is culture at the root of some of their most difficult challenges?

CEO’s know culture is important but there is a complete lack of clarity surrounding how evolving, shaping, leveraging, or changing it will help them overcome some of their greatest challenges and improve business results.

If they are convinced WHY they must do something then you can get on with the HOW question. If you don’t overcome the WHY question with sufficient clarity, the same aspect culture that requires attention (accountability, collaboration, creativity, attention to detail, bad behavior, etc.) will continue to prevent your organization from living up to its full potential.

There are nine major areas of business challenge that may provide the motivation for CEO’s to address the subject of culture:

1. Improving performance (growth, profitability, etc.)

Culture is the primary driver of sustainable high performance as people come and go from your organization. Unfortunately the word culture causes the eyes of many CEOs to glaze over due to the lack of meaning and connection to performance they have experienced. I stopped using the word culture in initial discussions with leaders. Would having every member of your organization on the same page about their role in impacting a performance priority and providing their maximum discretionary effort to support related strategies and plans be a good thing? Of course it would, as would a 4X greater growth rate and 147% higher earnings per share. Unfortunately, 97% of organizations don’t cover basic culture fundamentals with their number one performance priority.

2. Improving customer experience or recovering from a customer experience crisis

A great product or service is just table stakes these days. The complete customer experience is the ultimate driver of customer loyalty and growth. 93% of senior executives say customer experience is one of their top three priorities and 70% of organizations are currently managing initiatives to provide a more consistent customer experience. When you think about companies that provide an incredible customer experience, it’s no coincidence they are the exact same companies that have amazing cultures. Think Southwest Airlines, Ritz Carlton, Zappos, Nordstroms…great customer service, great workplace cultures since culture is the ultimate driver of a sustainably exceptional customer experience.

At the other end of the spectrum is the Customer Service Hall of Shame and organizations that experience a culture crisis – think GM culture crisis, global banking crisis, and the VA Hospital wait time crisis.

3. Resolving the CEO’s top frustration with how people work together

Performance and customer experience improvement efforts may be obvious areas that could motivate a CEO to take action but an even greater motivator is their own individual frustrations. Drama and rumors can run rampant in organizations that neglect the subject of culture and lack clarity, effective engagement, and ownership. Every culture has strengths and weaknesses and every CEO has frustrations they have experienced with how their team works together. What substantial action is taking place to alleviate or deal with those frustrations?

4. Changing silo behavior

CEO’s view collaboration as the most critical employee characteristic for this new work era but it’s very common for barriers between sub-groups and teams to negatively impact results. It might be traditional barriers between sales and operations, IT or HR functions and the groups they support, or some other barrier across departments, locations, regions, or teams. Teams must have a “culture core” that binds them together and unites them to focus on organizational priorities over sub-group priorities.

5. Reacting to or preventing serious bad behavior and compliance issues

We don’t have to look beyond the world of sports to see many examples with the recent NFL domestic abuse problems, recent firing of the PGA President, the behavior of Florida State’s quarterback capping 40 years of sexual assault problems in college football. It’s not just discrimination, bullying, harassment or other problems in the workplace that are the only concern. These examples show us that bad behavior outside of the workplace reflects just as poorly on organizations. Monitoring employee compliance is the number one issue with managing compliance risks. The greatest defense against bad behavior is not a new policy, rule, or 10 page code of conduct but a clearly reinforced culture where expected behaviors are defined and every member of the team holds each other accountable to the same standard of positive and constructive behavior.

Teams must have a “culture core” that binds them together and unites them to focus on organizational priorities over sub-group priorities.

6. Dramatically increasing the likelihood a strategy or major change effort (M&A, new products / services, new technology, etc.) will be successful

Workplace culture impacts the effectiveness of every major strategy and plan. Why on earth would any CEO want their strategy to be undermined by failing to fully understand and leverage cultural strengths or allowing a major cultural weakness to continue unchecked? Unfortunately it’s all too common as 56% of strategic initiatives fail to deliver their intended results and business intent and only one in four will be successful in the long run. It’s especially critical to consider culture if there is a major strategic action or change effort like an acquisition, entering a new market, launching a new type of product or service, or rolling out new technology.

7. Improving how talent is attracted, hired, and retained

54% of companies reported that talent shortages are impacting their ability to serve clients to a high or medium degree. 89% of employee success is due to cultural fit areas and not skills. Workplace culture is your employment brand. Best Place to Work, Great Place to Work, and other award winning companies have the distinct advantage of being able to market their outstanding culture. Others, in this age of social media and technology, see their true culture exposed on Glassdoor, in rants on social media, and other sources as they struggle to attract and retain the talent they need.

The greatest defense against bad behavior is not a new policy, rule, or 10 page code of conduct but a clearly reinforced culture where expected behaviors are defined and every member of the team holds each other accountable to the same standard of positive and constructive behavior.

8. Reacting to negative employee feedback

Negative feedback from a formal engagement, climate, satisfaction, or workplace culture survey and other types of informal feedback may motivate a CEO to get serious about culture. It’s far easier and effective to address the roots of engagement than to play wack-a-mole by trying to react to the latest employee concerns.

9. Directly addressing the subject of culture and the need to evolve, shape, or change some aspect of workplace culture

I saved this for last since directly addressing the subject of culture is not commonplace considering the 51% of employees that feel their culture needs a major overhaul. It just doesn’t make sense but it’s reality. If I told you I could take you on a journey that would 1) improve business performance, 2) improve customer experience, 3) resolve the top frustrations with how your team works together, 4) reduce silo behavior, 5) reduce the likelihood of bad behavior that could rock your organization to its core, 6) improve the success rate of your strategic priorities and change efforts, 7) improve talent attraction and retention, and 8) dramatically reduce negative employee feedback – why would you say NO.

Most top leaders would say “let’s do it” or at least “tell me more.” I wish that was the case. Unfortunately, the direct route of proactively dealing with the subject of culture may be the most difficult route to convincing a CEO to take action.

The direct route of proactively dealing with the subject of culture may be the most difficult route to convincing a CEO to take action.

Conclusion

Again, the #1 workplace culture challenge is convincing the top leader why some aspect of their culture needs their personal attention. It’s more difficult than it sounds with all the other challenges and priorities in organizations. There’s no point spending energy on discussing how to manage sustainable culture change if the leader doesn’t see the value and has no motivation to change. The day will come when it will be commonplace for most leaders to directly address the subject of culture with clarity and confidence. Until then, consider these nine different areas of business challenge to provide the motivation to change.

Do you agree the #1 workplace culture challenge is convincing the top leader that there is a need to evolve, shape, or change their culture and it will require their personal attention? What approaches have you used to motivate action? Please comment below and I’ll respond to every point of view.

 

 

Tim Kuppler is the co-founder of CultureUniversity.com, co-editor of ConstructiveCulture.com, and Director of Culture and Organization Development for Human Synergistics, a 40+ year pioneer in the workplace culture field with the mission of Changing the World—One Organization at a Time®. Human Synergistics is also the home of the most widely-used and thoroughly-researched organizational culture survey in the world. Tim co-authored the 2014 book Build the Culture Advantage, Deliver Sustainable Performance with Clarity and Speed. He previously managed substantial workplace culture transformations as an industry executive with best practices featured as part of the 2012 book Leading Culture Change in Global Organizations and was President and Senior Consultant at Denison Consulting.

  • Johan Roels

    Not only is the #1 workplace culture challenge “convincing the top leader that there is a need to evolve, shape, or change their culture and it will require their personal attention”; the CEO will have to be convinced that he/she will have to transform his/her behavior. And that is the most difficult part of the #1 wokplace culture challenge.
    ‘Start with Why?’ is indeed a good place to start and a risk…, since you have to picture the current behavior of the CEO that is an obstacle to the needed culture transformation.

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