A couple of weeks back I wrote a piece titled ‘Culture Management is Not Just for Senior Leaders’. After giving it some thought I decided to return to that topic with a look at what I consider to be action steps to reliably establish and maintain the culture you want in your business. So here we go.
- You might be surprised to hear this but a careful examination of your own relationship to having employees is the very first step in having the culture you want.
It is a well documented fact that you’d be hard pressed to find any public company that didn’t profess in its annual report that the company’s employees are its most valuable asset. You would be equally hard pressed to find any of those same companies that showed employees on the asset side of their balance sheet. Leaders in those companies might quickly protest that they are limited by the rules of accounting insofar as what they can show as assets and currently employees don’t meet the qualification. I say this simple practice affects the thinking of managers when it comes to employees. While I agree with this explanation in principle, based in rules of accounting and reasonable, I think it is necessary to dig deeper into any company’s actions regarding employees to see how they might reflect the truth in practice. In many cases there seems to be a disconnect between the professed value of employees and the practices that may in part be reflected in 70% levels of employee disengagement reported in many surveys. And usually these statistics reflect surveys of larger companies. Just a quick look at compensation practices will begin to demonstrate what I am talking about, especially when it comes to profit sharing/bonus plans.
I’d ask you to think about this; when you reflect on your employees do they show up for you primarily as expense or investment, resource or asset, problem or opportunity? The difference is crucial, not so much because there is a right answer as much as knowing the answer for yourself begins to provide a clearer understanding of how you might build the culture of a business or why things may be going the way they are in your business today.
Here is what I have found as a matter of practice; some business owners have employees because they need to in order to operate their business. This is what I would call a pragmatic approach, employees as necessity; resources to be used to whatever degree they can be and ultimately expense that must be tolerated but not necessarily embraced.
Or, in other cases I have found that the employer has employees because they have a clear vision of the kind of business they want to create, how big they want to be, what services, etc. and they will willingly have as many employees as it takes to fulfill that vision, knowing that without the particular skills their employees bring there is little hope of getting there. This is a view that reflects an understood value for interdependency when it comes to accomplishing anything of consequence.
So now to other steps… before moving on it should be noted that if you are operating from the employees as necessity/expense perspective you may be reluctant to adopt the following steps. The direction I’ll be taking you involves increasing the level of reliance on the employees as the means to the success of your enterprise.
Once you clear the hurdle on recognizing that you will likely be as successful as your willingness to rely on your employees and to allow them to contribute to their fullest capacity the rest of these steps may just fall into place.
- Clarify your own vision for your business and begin to communicate that openly to your employees.
- Get clear on the values that you believe reflect the expressed vision and get them communicated often. Take a look here at how a well known values driven company, Zappos, expresses its values for employees.
- Define your strategic priorities. What’s going to be important that will focus employee action and intention? Will you focus on adding new products, improving overall customer satisfaction, adding new customers? Here’s an example of a strategy focused rigorously on getting the customers what they want taken from a recent segment on 60 Minutes on CBS television.
- Determine and communicate the performance/results that you believe reflect motion in the direction of accomplishing your vision.
- Measure, Feedback and Recognize. Again, hopefully this last would be obvious but nothing cramps performance like not knowing how you are doing or not being recognized for your contribution.
Of course there is always more to say on this topic but I suspect it will likely some further definition to what is contained in these steps.