It has recently been in the news for all the wrong reasons, first for the scandal, then for the violent treatment of a flight passenger. However, for every company whose culture has been questioned, there is a whose employees-first mantra and spirit of inclusion inspires teams to go above and beyond for customers; there is also a Quicken Loans whose “isms” or cultural values — such as “simplicity is genius” and “yes before no” — have led the company to become one of the fastest growing online mortgage lenders, not to mention one of FICO’s top performers.
Culture is more than free yoga classes, gourmet meals, and other perks in successful companies. It’s all about establishing a culture based on shared values and principles — ideals that are so deeply ingrained in the company’s DNA that they become inextricably linked to daily decisions. It’s about creating a company where people can thrive and grow together. They’re motivated to do good work, better work, which translates to higher customer satisfaction and better performance. Culture is essentially the glue that holds a company together, and it all starts with the CEO, as it does with the most important things in a business. So, what are some of the strategies CEOs can use to improve their company’s culture?
Listen more than you speak.
It’s effortless to miss what’s going on on the front lines when you’re busy running a business. Would things have been different at Wells Fargo if executives had paid attention to their employees and recognized the pressures they were under to meet sales targets? Employees experience the organization’s culture every day, and they are the first to notice if something isn’t quite right, which is why it’s critical to listen to what they have to say.
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Squarespace keeps its finger on the company’s pulse by cultivating a flat, open culture with minimal management layers between employees and executives. This instills confidence in employees, allowing them to express their opinions freely.
It is critical to promote open dialogue. In my office at MetricStream, I have a stuffed elephant. It’s to remind members that I encourage them to “put the elephants on the table.” Consider conducting employee feedback surveys, speaking with your employee’s face to face, or establishing hotlines where people can report grievances and concerns without fear of being singled out.
Pay attention to the subtext, or nonverbal cues, as you listen. Employees may say one thing, but their expressions and gestures may say something completely different. Is it true that they are afraid to speak the truth, and if so, how does this reflect on your culture? Similarly, keep track of how many people have responded to surveys and how many questions have been skipped. Observe how people interact during team meetings: do they appear engaged, do they ask questions? These signals provide essential insights into your organization’s culture and its alignment with corporate values.
Finally, acknowledge and reward employees who speak up and raise concerns. Invite them to question your assumptions and bring a range of viewpoints and ideas to the table. Employees will be more engaged, productive, and innovative if they believe they are being heard and that their concerns are being addressed. You’ll be able to create a stronger, more cohesive culture as a result of your efforts as a leader.
The Japanese 4×100 meters relay team stunned the world by defeating North American sprinting legends to win silver at the 2016 Rio Olympics. None of the four Japanese men were faster than Justin Gatlin of the United States or Andre De Grasse of Canada. They made up for their lack of speed with teamwork and seamless baton changes, which ultimately gave them the winning edge.
“None of us is as smart as all of us,” noted leadership expert Ken Blanchard once said. Effective leaders understand this vision. They understand that the best corporate cultures emerge when people collaborate to achieve shared goals and values and combine individual contributions to propel collective success.
However, in today’s dispersed, global organizations, cultivating a collaborative spirit can be difficult. Many leaders view collaboration to accomplish specific goals rather than as the foundation of a successful organization. But, others understand that one of the most basic human needs is to belong — and when employees feel that they are a valued member of a team that collaborates towards a meaningful purpose, they tend to be more innovative, high-performing, and satisfied.
Collaboration, on the other hand, does not happen by chance. It necessitates a strong, long-term strategy and roadmap. Begin by educating employees on the value of collaboration in achieving the organization’s goals and realizing their potential. Create a work environment of trust and respect where employees are free to express themselves. Invite them to collaborate with other teams and functions across silos. Finally, establish metrics that can be used to measure and improve collaboration. These initiatives contribute significantly to the creation of a company in which the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.
Encourage people to take risks.
As someone who has spent much of her life as an individual and as the CEO of a business, I’ve learned that the most successful companies are those that are not afraid to take risks. “Life doesn’t always present you with the perfect opportunity at the perfect time…” said YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki. The good opportunities are messy, confusing, and difficult to recognize. They’re dangerous. They put you to the test.”
Good leaders understand that the only way to take advantage of these opportunities is to foster a risk-taking culture in which employees across the organization are encouraged to try new things and challenge the status quo. At MetricStream, one of our biggest innovations yet — the M7 GRC platform and apps — is the cumulative result of teams across the organization pushing the boundaries of technology to boldly go where few, if any, GRC companies have gone before.
In a world that is constantly changing, a strong culture of risk-taking is especially important. You must inspire your employees to take those risks if you want to innovate, transform, and disrupt. And it all starts with talking the talk and walking the walk. Employees will follow in the footsteps of their leaders who take calculated risks.
It also boils down to making well-informed decisions. Employees must be aware of the risks they are taking. Encourage them to spend time calculating and analyzing the potential risks of their decisions so that they can be prepared for the consequences. Establish milestones, checkpoints, and controls to keep risks from spiraling out of control. Finally, tell employees that it’s fine if the risks they take don’t always pan out. “Remember, we celebrate our failures,” then-CEO Eric Schmidt told reporters after Google’s much-hyped Wave failed. This is a company where it’s perfectly acceptable to try something extremely difficult, fail miserably, and learn from the experience.”
Culture isn’t something that happens by accident. It takes time, effort, and dedication, just like anything worthwhile. Take a page from Asana’s book. Culture is treated as a product at the tech firm, which, like any other app or software, necessitates careful planning, testing, and debugging. Representatives from across the company meet regularly to assess corporate values and brainstorm new ways to instill them in the organization. They also gather feedback from users on what works and what doesn’t. The company was recently named as one of Entrepreneur’s best company cultures of 2017.
After all, companies like Asana understand that culture isn’t just a “nice-to-have.” It’s just as important as the product or service you’re selling because happy employees come from a strong, cohesive culture. And happier employees translate to higher productivity, happier customers, and higher profits.