An organization’s culture is arguably its greatest asset. Culture attracts and retains top talent, rallies employees to find innovative solutions to problems, protects the company from outside threats, and is the key driver for pushing the organization forward. So it is no surprise that instilling, nurturing, and continually strengthening a healthy and thriving culture sits at the top of the list for organizational leaders. At thinkPARALLAX, we work with our clients to strengthen their culture through extensive employee engagement, training, and professional development. The engagement tactics and communication strategies that we offer are derived from a core philosophy dissecting what a strong culture looks like, and how to go about strengthening it. We break down that philosophy here:
A thriving culture is built on a strong foundation
Metaphorically speaking, an organization is like a car, with leadership acting as the steering wheel, the marketing department as the body and paint job. Culture, therefore, is the car’s engine. It is what is powering the car forward. While combustion engines vary slightly from car to car, each one requires the same foundational elements of fuel, air, pressure, and electricity to harmoniously work together to power the vehicle. Similarly, while thriving cultures undoubtedly vary across organizations, they all carry three foundational components that propel them. Powerful and effective cultures are those that are values-led, aligned, and trusting.
1. Values-Led: Values are what guide each and every one of us. Our values are also directly responsible for our beliefs. Our belief system then influences our attitudes. Our attitudes, in turn, affect our behaviors. A culture that shares similar values will perform and collaborate better to one that doesn’t. If the fundamental values between individuals on a team and the company as a whole differ, their subsequent behaviors will often contradict one another. At the nucleus of any high-performing group – be it a sports team, a neighborhood, or even a country – is an agreed upon set of shared values that each member holds, guiding his or her actions.
2. Aligned: An aligned culture is one that is pointed towards the company’s North Star. Not only does everyone share the aforementioned values, but they also understand and align with the company’s purpose and mission. They are aware of how the company is impacting the world and appreciate how they, as an employee, play a role in achieving the company’s vision. This alignment instills a deep and powerful force to push the company forward, promoting intrapreneurship and organically producing employee brand ambassadors. This also gives members a sense of belonging – something humans innately crave.
3. Trusting: A culture built around trust ignites cooperation, teamwork, and productivity. If people are worried about losing their jobs next quarter, getting penalized for making a mistake, or clouded by other fear-based worries, they will spend less time helping peers or the company, and instead focus more on protecting themselves. As Simon Sinek points out in his book, Leaders Eat Last, “When we have to protect ourselves from each other, the whole organization suffers. But when trust and cooperation thrive internally, we pull together and the organization grows stronger as a result.”
Before modifying a car’s engine to make it faster and stronger, you need to ensure that bolts and wires are in place to connect the new pieces. Therefore, before an organization can look to strengthen or engage its culture, the above key fundamental traits need to be ingrained.
Strengthening a culture: The Four-Step Cycle
Before exploring our four-step cycle, it is important to call out that cultures should be strengthened, not changed. More than having a more constructive connotation, the act of strengthening a culture entails undergoing continuous, calculated, and measured improvements, as opposed to drastic changes. Our four-step cycle for strengthening a culture includes investigating the current status of the culture, identifying an area of improvement or desired implementation, engaging employees (which carries the most weight and is where the meat of this lies), and lastly, evaluating the outcomes and results. With the foundation at the core, this cycle helps our clients to effectively communicate and engage with their employees in an effort to foster a thriving culture.