Culture is the most powerful factor in an organization. Culture eats Vision for breakfast. Culture eats Strategy for lunch.
If you believe this then you, as a leader, ought to be driving the culture in your organization. Culture is a way of life cultivated over time through:
These three things are visual displays of what is valued in an organization. Culture is created as a result of the messages employees receive about how to behave in the organization. You, the leader, influence these messages with how you demonstrate the core values of the organization.
If you have a core value that says people are your most valuable asset and you don’t treat employees like they have value, then that will not become the organizational culture. People do what they see and they especially look at leaders. You can talk about valuing people and have it on posters all over the building, but if you don’t act that way, employees won’t develop that culture.
Symbols in organizations that influence behavior include: how time is spent, how money is allocated, office space (who gets the best offices), who gets promoted and favored, and how communication works. All of these must be congruent with organizational values.
Systems such as what gets measured, what gets reported, reward system, and budgeting and goal setting are also critical. I once worked in an organization that had a value of collaboration and the leadership talked collaboration all the time. However, the compensation system was designed to reward individual effort and not collaboration. So, how well do you think people collaborated with each other?
Do you remember the news story about the nuclear missile operators at Minot AFB that were fired for cheating on proficiency exams? Analysis of the incident said Minot senior leaders failed to foster a “culture of accountability.” One document said, “Group testing was viewed as taking care of each other. Missileers felt pressure to score 100 percent on every test.
The Air Force Core Values are: Integrity First, Service Before Self, and Excellence in all That We Do. So, how do you think leaders in that unit demonstrated these values? The Air Force has a good vision of where they want to go and strategy to get there. In the case of Minot AFB, the organizational culture was not congruent with Air Force Core Values and kept the unit from succeeding.
So, how do you develop a culture consistent with your core values? Employees must understand the values and what they look like being lived out in the organization. The best way to do this is have leaders throughout the organization demonstrating the values by their actions everyday. Also important is to make sure symbols and systems reflect the values.
What would the ideal culture in your organization look like? How would that match your core values? What behaviors, symbols and systems could you implement to bring that culture into being?
Leaders know the way, go the way and show the way.