The Right Rx For Unhealthy Corporate Culture

An unhealthy corporate culture is like an unhealthy individual. It's overweight, cumbersome, and burdened with a number of self-destructive habits. Recognizing that you need to get your culture into optimum health is one of the most important responsibilities an executive team has today--and is one that many seem to wrestle with. For most individuals, getting into great shape can be incredibly hard because it's a balancing act of diet and exercise, mind and body, and time and commitment. Too much of one item without a careful balance of the others will deliver unsustainable results, which leads to frustration and a return to old habits. Losing weight, building muscle, and getting fit is a constant battle for most people. And, for many it's riddled with everyday excuses. Companies often struggle with their health and fitness in the same way as people.

Here's how to get started on the road to cultural fitness.

RECOGNIZE YOU HAVE A PROBLEM
Your products, technologies and services can always be replicated or out-designed, but the unique spirit, energy and engagement of your people cannot be easily copied. Understanding the power that resides in unlocking the full potential of your people is one of the most significant opportunities a company has today. Regularly measuring the health and state of your culture is the first step. However, culture is dismissed in many companies as purely the responsibility of HR, and because employee engagement surveys may have high scores, culture is rarely given further consideration. Recognizing the importance culture plays in both short- and long-term success, and understanding that it is a key driver to fuel performance and competitive differentiation, is every executive’s responsibility, no matter their function with the company.

Your culture is a key indicator of the health of your organization and a significant contributor to delivering sustainable, superior results. And while the alarm gets raised by the head of HR when there's an issue, if the CEO is not actively engaged in championing cultural health and transformation, then the problem won’t be fixed or opportunities maximized.

GET YOUR CULTURE ON THE RIGHT DIET
Like the right diet, strategy affects energy, daily performance, how we feel about ourselves, and how we interact with others. We know that to be healthy, we need to eat a well balanced diet. For example, a meat-only diet is obviously unhealthy, and a strategy too heavily focused and driven by one discipline, like finance, will deliver unhealthy results. Strategies that are ill-defined, unbalanced, and unclear will deliver results well short of your organization’s best. It's important to ensure that, like a good diet, your strategy is well planned, clearly communicated, embraced, and activated by the people who are responsible for its execution.

A HEALTHY CULTURE GETS THE RIGHT WORKOUT
Obesity is our nation's #1 healthcare problem and we need to cut the fat with a sense of urgency. As an individual, regardless of whether you're in great shape inevitably someone else's poor health will impact your healthcare costs and the state of all the other stakeholders in the system. The same thing happens in companies: "your" department is doing what it needs to do and is making a difference, but "that" department is not strategically following the program and is negatively impacting the entire company's performance. If strategy is like a diet, then culture is like exercise, and both need serious, consistent commitment. No one can exercise for you and there is no quick fix--you have to plan the exercise regimen and do the work. As individuals, we often lack discipline and focus, and despite buying equipment, DVDs and memberships, or having Town Hall meetings and strategic frameworks we more often than not fail to use or follow them consistently, and as a result fall short.

GIVE YOUR CULTURE TOTAL COMMITMENT
Why is it that if we pay a personal trainer to make us do what we could do for free, we actually do it? The accountability, consequences, encouragement and measurement are all drivers that motivate people to maintain their fitness regimen. Establishing the same commitment and accountability, with clear drivers and a fitness regimen for your company culture is essential for sustainable and repeatable success. The danger of doing the same exercises day in and day out is that we plateau and lose commitment. Muscle memory, boredom, and fatigue creep into the daily regimen and results cease--and companies plateau in the same way. They lose sight of their goals and competitive focus, and poor accountability and pride creep into the culture, creating a false sense of security. A healthy culture engages and activates your people to drive toward your goals and objectives, and it informs you how hard, and in what areas, your organization is pursuing its goals. Strategy guides the way but it's not the motivator; a clearly defined purpose that inspires, engages and activates your people is the best motivator.

5 Uncommon Sense Approaches to Give Your Culture a Good Workout

1. Start with the head
Plan with the head and play with heart; the leader of the company must go first and stay engaged.

2. Set definitive goals
Be clear about how much you want to gain or lose, and by when. But most importantly, define what success looks likes.

3. Look in the mirror
Companies with high integrity are able to look at themselves honestly and make the correct adjustments to achieve success.

4. Cut the fat
Eliminate the counter culture detractors and celebrate the contributors; leaders contribute more than just their technical expertise.

5. Rest
Investigate the causes of fatigue and fading interest, and take a breather. Just as in exercising, lack of rest causes your muscles to breakdown and increases your risk of injury instead of maximizing and achieving results.

[Image: Flickr user Angus]

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1 Comments

  • Eric Doner

    Shawn, your comments are spot on. Everything you write about corporate culture resonates with me as practical, prudent and common sense. However as Will Rogers once acknowledged, there is a big difference between common sense and common practice - which keeps organizational consultants like you and me - busy. Keep up the great work!