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Why Your Culture Matters Now More than Ever

culture matters

I am a massive fan of David Friedman's work for culture by design instead of culture by chance. He does a fantastic job helping company's transition abstract values into concrete behaviors (he calls fundamentals). Unfortunately, many organizations do not understand what their culture represents to the people on the team. Many CEOs have a large blind spot when it comes to culture. They are too close to see what is happening. It is like the odor of one's home. Others can smell what we cannot.

Can you have a stinky culture and not know it? Why does culture matter more now than in the past? How do we design a culture deliberately? These are all great questions. In Future Focused: Shape Your Culture. Shape Your Future; the authors explore the critical role that CEOs, leaders, and their teams play in shaping workplace culture and the critical impact on a company's future. They share four foundational principles for shaping culture--purposeful leadership, personal change, broad engagement, and systemic alignment. Together, these principles form the basis for how successful leaders and organizations can create thriving cultures.

The pandemic and great resignation have changed the business landscape by stirring the emotions of today's employees. The pause button and reset are making people reexamine career choices like never in my lifetime. For years now, I have discussed the pending death of transactional management – pay for work. Well, the final nail in the coffin is here. Employees want more than a paycheck to stay with a company long-term. So, what do they want?

With the emergence of generation z (aka Zoomers), workers want purpose in their work. You can laugh at this notion or take it seriously. The purpose of work used to be a paycheck. Employees desire meaningful work and a higher purpose in life. This reality is not new thinking for people; however, organizations with higher purpose have performed much better in retaining talent. Do you remember Earnest Shackleton's famous advertisement?

MEN WANTED FOR HAZARDOUS JOURNEY: Low wages, bitter cold, long hours of complete darkness. Safe return doubtful. Honor and recognition in the event of success.

History questions whether this advertisement ran as the story goes; however, searching for purpose is not new to humanity. One of the first books for this ad to appear in was The 100 Greatest Advertisements: 1852-1958, written by Julian Watkins in 1949. The brief accompanying text says the ad ran in London newspapers in 1900. Who knows? Many people saw the ad as a way to gain purpose in work despite the significant risk. Today's worker is the personification of purposeful work. They want more than the transaction of payment for labor.

82% of CEOs in a recent survey named culture as a priority. I question whether most CEOs can link purpose and culture together to create meaningful work out of tasks that may seem mundane or uninteresting to others. Shackleton's men embraced poor working conditions as a path to a higher purpose. The key to success is the creation of intrinsic motivation that connects culture and purpose. When the trip to Antarctica became difficult, and workers started to complain, Shackleton made those workers sleep in his tent to mitigate the negative impact they would have on the rest of the team. The level of complaining was kept to a minimum when the boss was present and trying to sleep.

Modern CEOs can do the same by linking performance with culture. A culture of high performance and expectations will appeal to some and not others. The people you fire indicates the most about your commitment to culture. Tolerating people that oppose or contradict your culture separates culture and performance. Integrating strategy with culture is the best method to link with performance. Be intentional and consistent by showing support, appreciation, and recognition when behaviors match cultural norms. Be relentless when behavior threatens your culture.

Before the 2020 pandemic, an enduring study reported that 70% of workers did not engage at work. If this is partially true, the great resignation should be no surprise. Engagement is a critical ingredient for building and sustaining a thriving culture. Broad engagement requires everyone in an organization to live the promise of an inspiring purpose.

I am about to step on some toes. Think about the typical onboarding nightmare that is common for most front-line employees. You know who you are! Employees sit in front of a computer or television while hours of poorly made videos play merely to protect the company from future liability. Piles of documents get handed over to be read, signed, and returned so the new employee cannot sue the company if something tragic happens while on the job. 

There is nothing inspirational or purposeful about the onboarding experience in most organizations. Yet, this is the first impression made on the people you worked so hard to attract. Instead of using this honeymoon period to inspire and motivate, you expose them to the painful first impression of life on the job. This job sucks already. Will it get better?

What if talent processes, performance management, onboarding, and training were aligned to the culture and served as reinforcement of the purpose on the job? Can an inspirational first impression replace a painful indoctrination? You get one chance to make a first impression. To survive the great resignation, you need a strong company culture. It would help if you created a strong culture modeled from the organization's top. The pandemic has proven that culture truly matters. By molding culture and leaders, organizations can shape a future that delivers purpose and performance.