How To Align Culture in Any Company

We Talk About "Culture Alignment" A Lot—Here's How to Do It

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Culture. Culture. Culture.

The more you emphasize how much you’re going to focus on it, the more it becomes a buzzword, especially when companies these days are underscoring the importance of workplace empathy—according to the State of Workplace Empathy Report 2019, 91% of CEOs believe empathy is directly linked to financial performance.

92% of them, however, believe that they are empathetic. Unfortunately, all employees agree (it comes to 72%).

It’s nice to talk about culture, make a big hoo-ha about it and then change some things in the mission statement. At the end of the day, companies are still not taking action.

WeWork is a great example of an extremely broken culture. How broken? Take a look at the scathing reviews by employees on Glassdoor. They overcharge you for breaking a glass whiteboard at a 200% margin. The executive team is still given another exit package (which we talked about on Monday) with a total worth of $29.6 million.

Literally, if you are a WeWork chief right now, leaving the company for any reason will net you millions simply because you left.

Corporate culture is insanely important. It begets your results. While results depend on external factors as well, workplace culture can be entirely controlled.

Controlling culture can help increase the probability of you getting results.

For a company as big at WeWork, how can they control? What can they do to rein in those that are causing problems? How can they solve their problems at that size? On the other hand, we have, on Glassdoor, Atlassian scoring 4.3, Google scoring 4.4, and McKinsey & Company scoring 4.5 (Glassdoor themselves score lower at 4.0).

In this edition of the H+B Digest, we’ll be talking about how any company can align, build, enhance and reinforce their culture, regardless of company size and location.

Set Clear Culture Benchmarks & Rubrics

This goes without saying: without clear goals to work towards and fall back on, employees will not know whether their actions are aligned with it or not. For instance, Atlassian has a “no bullshit” value and that is simple enough for many to understand. All you need to do is to ensure that what you’re doing is not bullshittery to your colleagues, then you’re good to go.

Values must always fulfill these criteria:

  • Simple for others outside of your company to understand. Values don’t just represent the employees, it also represents the company when they are on other stages. For instance, when negotiating sales deals, raising Series D money and presenting products in a media conference. Other companies should look at the company’s actions and agree that it fits the company’s action.

  • Specific enough for anyone to follow. This is why the “no bullshit” value is great: it’s specific and it can be applied to any action, thought or word. While values are always subject to one’s interpretation, companies can set clear examples of what the value constitutes. For instance, a company may choose empathy as its value, and focus on employees.

Set Up A Company Culture Committee

If there’s an ethics committee for organization bodies out there (e.g. medical), then there should be a company culture committee. This committee is comprised of founders, senior leaders, junior leaders and employees in a non-leadership role. Here’s what this committee needs to do:

  • Ensure equality. While there can be chairman at the committee, this committee has no hierarchy. Everyone’s opinion has value: for instance, the non-managerial employee may see a blind spot that the senior leaders cannot see. Conversely, the senior leaders can communicate their expectations and challenges in their roles. Making the committee a fair, democratic body ensures that everyone has a voice, especially for lower-level employees. Imagine pointing out that the COO is a troublemaker to the CEO as an employee. Definitely, you would need immunity and psychological safety.

  • Be committed to the cause. The committee must follow through with their decisions and take hard stances to ensure that workplace culture is maintained. To ensure everyone is committed, there can extrinsic motivators to help with that. External members from non-competing or competing organizations can also be installed to ensure that occurs as well.

  • Conduct regular culture audits. This is extremely important for companies with teams scattered around the globe. Deciding the benchmark at the HQ won’t ensure that it’ll replicate itself in other places. Culture audits are meant to ensure that this occurs.

Conduct Regular Culture Audits

It sounds formal, but it’s more of a check than an audit.

What’s the point of an audit? To ensure everything’s compliant and to discover blind spots, potholes, and stoppages. This can be an annual, monthly or even an ad-hoc thing. The point is to make culture a point.

Here’s what an audit can help in:

  • Identify stoppages and potholes. In the form of employees: for instance, leaders that might be leading their team in their own way without caring for the company culture. Micro-managers are great examples of stoppages. Other leaders might also be exhibiting toxic behaviors that contradict the company’s values.

  • Identify challenges in aligning culture and adjust. Not every team will find it easy to implement the company’s values: a tech team and a finance team lead tremendously different lives. Thus, their management will be different too. As such, the audit is meant to see if there is a way to adapt the company values for the management style needed by the context of work.

  • Celebrate achievements and culture advocates. Exemplary figures must be awarded and appreciated. This audit is meant for you to find out who they are and commend them.

Appoint A Head of Culture In Every Branch

This can be a new position as part of the People Operations or the Human Resources department. Call this whatever you like, but the Head of Culture is meant to:

  • Be held accountable for culture misalignment and mishaps. This employee needs to ensure that everyone is doing things according to the culture of the company, especially leaders.

  • Be at the forefront of identifying toxic behaviors. Extremely important. He must identify leaders who have inflated egos and address the issue with training, understanding, and compassion.

At the end of the day, this can be quite authoritarian-sounding, especially when companies force their narratives down their employees. Think of culture as water: it ebbs and flows, and with time it might change.

Just because something works a year ago does not mean it works today.

With everything, there needs to be balance and tact. Companies must always deploy empathy as a guiding principle more than anything. When there’s a struggle, strive to understand first. When there’s an exemplar, strive to appreciate. In the end, the idea is to unite everyone under a single mission statement.

Newsflash: most employees don’t care and are using the company as a means to:

  • Enrich themselves before heading to a place with better remuneration and recognition

  • Survive and pay their next month’s rent

  • Kill time before their post-graduate school

And etc—you get the idea. Employees are all here with their own goals, even if they truly believe in the mission of the company.

Be grateful. When a company is grateful for every single employee under its wing, the company culture will gradually correct itself and transform into something positive.

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