“How do you sustain your culture?” asked a recent visitor to our business based in Nottingham. A great question. I have been thinking about the question AND the answer over this past week. I recognise that increasingly it is an organisation’s culture that provides its competitive edge in becoming a source for good, an employer of choice and ultimately, an undisputed market leader.
Firstly I thought about the word ‘sustain’ and what does it really mean. A dictionary’s definition suggests ‘to strengthen or support physically or mentally’. To strengthen and support a culture. I like the idea of strengthening a culture so that it becomes scaleable, dependable and reliable. At the same time, I wonder if that is enough? Or, is that we want to nurture our culture whereby we care for, encourage the development of and cherish its very existence. As human beings, I believe we all have the capacity for growth and therefore to improve the way we behave. When we nurture our culture, we develop it, we improve it in service of our vision.
Secondly I thought about the word ‘culture’ and what does it really mean. A dictionary’s definition describes culture as ‘the ideas, customs, and social behaviour of a particular people or society’. In it’s simplest terms, within organisations, we describe culture as ‘the way we behave’. We often hear others talk about the organisational culture in terms of ‘what is it like to work here?’ Most often culture is defined by the leader in a particular department or team. Consequently there will often be several cultures within one organisation.
All culture is local.
Furthermore, we experience culture like a weather system. For example in my very first role, more than 30 years ago now, I had the privilege of working on the Executive floor within an Investment Bank. The 6th Floor. My role was secretary to the Executive Assistant of the CEO.
Walking at a purposeful pace, suitcase in hand, head looking towards the floor, mind thick with thoughts, our CEO entered the 6th floor, directly from the lifts. You could feel his mood immediately. He was not happy. He entered is office and in a loud voice beckoned for his assistant to enter. Others who wanted to grab him for a moment were quickly turned away. Thereafter no-one dared to hover at the door. Everyone kept their heads down, hoping their name would not be beckoned. If it was, in this mood, you knew that it was not going to be a pleasant experience. He did not hold back on letting others know of his disappointment either in them or a situation. The markets were volatile. Clients were unreliable. Investments were risky. His mood reflected this instability and set the scene for others on the floor.
The weather was bleak on these occasions.
I walked down to the second floor, the home of Operations. The atmosphere was light. People were talking not only about work but an event they had been to the night before. I saw our Head of Operations connecting with team members openly and in a relaxed way. It seemed they were having fun whilst working. Very different from my experience on the 6th Floor.
The weather was sunny.
As I thought about the answer to the question ‘how do you sustain your culture?’ I reflected on my experience of working with a very different CEO; Bob Chapman and my colleagues at the Barry Wehmiller Leadership Institute. Based on my experience, below I share 5 ways in how to nurture culture throughout your organisation:
- Define your vision in a way that is easily understood, repeatable and relatable. At Barry Wehmiller, we imagine a world where business can be a powerful force for good, through our culture of truly human leadership.The idea is simple. People spend a lot of time at work so we want to make that a good experience; so however they feel when they arrive in the morning, we want them to feel a little bit better when they leave in the evening – every team member, every day. If they feel better, they will make their family and friends feel better, they perform better and so does the business.
- Define your values and measure of success in a way that are easily understood repeatable and relateable. Our values are based upon a family mind-set and comprise trust, respect, teamwork, recognition, continuous improvement and personal growth. At Barry Wehmiller ‘we measure success by the way we touch the lives of people’. The values are not set in huge tombstones as you walk into our offices or into our plants, nor are they posted on every wall in every lift, rather they are lived by each of our team members in all our locations around the world. They are role-modelled by Bob. Everyday. Everywhere. In turn, because of how they are treated, leaders throughout adopt this way of treating their team members; with care and respect, like a family member.
- Listen to your team members. On a regular basis. ‘Where are we living in alignment with our vision and values?’ ‘Where are the gaps?’ And then, trust your team members; their thoughts and ideas in how to improve their roles so they can continue to nurture their gifts, talents and feel fulfilled in what they do. Despite Bob’s often demanding schedule, he continues to hold listening sessions throughout the organisation both in the USA and Europe. We recently acquired a business in Italy and Bob flew over to meet the new team members and spend time listening to them. This act of care, stood out in the minds of our new team members.
- Recognise and appreciate team members for who they are as well as what they do. Even if you don’t achieve the specific result you hoped for despite the hard work, conscious effort and creativity of your team member, it’s important to recognise their contribution and who they are as a human being. Recognise when they demonstrate the core values and behaviours you subscribe to in service of your vision. When people are recognised in this way, it serves to anchor the behaviours for others. Many organisations have awards and reward schemes which are one way of celebration. Additionally, take the time to think about and hand write a personal note of recognition. Take some time to deliver the message in way that is succinct, specific and sincere.
- Be intentional about how you show up. Everyday. Everywhere. Our hope is to create a culture where we think of others first. We listen, with empathy rather than simply waiting to reply. We build trust by behaving in ways that generate trust being consistently competent and showing compassion and character. We create the environment (or weather system) for individuals to feel respected, nurture their talents, grow and improve as human beings.
Adopting these steps will serve to nurture your culture. Leaders throughout your organisation are weather makers and as such have a profound responsibility and opportunity to define the weather system for all those in their span of care. Be intentional and define a caring weather system. In my experience, this type of organisational culture, a truly human leadership culture, will provide a source for good in the world of business, become an employer of choice and ultimately an undisputed market leader.
Thanks for reading!
PS If you believe that business can be a force for good and want to know more about how to develop a culture of truly human leadership where people and performance exist in harmony, please connect with me here and I’ll be delighted to be in touch.