What Your Boss Should Know About Corporate Culture

The humor approach to corporate culture
The humor approach to corporate culture

I  hear every day about how culture is the most important work of our era … and at times, the most difficult. New research confirms that culture is not just about “feel-good-at-work” (which IS important) but is the essential business process of the modern age.

In May 2013: The Katzenbach Center at Booz & Company surveyed a diverse group of 2,219 executives of varying seniority, company size, and function to better understand global perceptions of culture and its impact on change. Key findings include:

  • 84 percent of respondents and 86 percent of C-suite respondents believe that their organization’s culture is critical to business success.
  • 60 percent said culture is more important than the company’s strategy or operating model.
  • 96 percent said some form of culture change is needed within their organization.
  • 51 percent believe their organization is in need of a major culture overhaul.
  • 45 percent do not think their culture is being effectively managed.
  • 48 percent do not think they have the capabilities required to deliver lasting change.
  • At 57 percent, skepticism due to past failed efforts was the number one reason for resistance to change.
  • 70 percent of those respondents whose changes were adopted and sustained leveraged organizational pride and emotional commitment.

The question most leaders struggle with is this: When and How DO you shift a corporate culture? Especially in the face of increasing demands for performance and results that today’s stakeholders demand?

There are a few simple principles all leaders should know about their company culture, to help them understand when and how to make changes:

1)      Culture is largely invisible, until it’s not. If your organization is undergoing change of any significance, culture becomes more visible. Employees will re-think if the culture is a fit for them during change. Good leaders will use changes such as these to consciously discuss culture in the organization, to ensure that people feel confident in the new direction:

  1. Industry or market shifts that are impacting customers’ willingness to buy your products or services – whether regulatory, competitive, or simply “s-curve growth.”
  2. It is becoming harder to acquire and retain good talent.
  3. Corporate changes to employees’ compensation and benefits.
  4. New leadership at the top.

2)      Culture Audit, 101. The best company culture conversations connect the people at the top (who are thinking long-term and strategically) with people closest to the customer (individual performers and teams delivering your goods and services, as well as supervisors and mid-level managers who are translating the vision and strategy to the front lines.).  We often say to leaders “You are the least accurate view of the culture, because you’re at 30,000 feet. Your people know, but they don’t know how to tell you.” Every organization can benefit from a “culture audit” – structuring an open-ended, engaged, collaborative discussion among people of all levels and across the business will generate great information, as well as igniting passion for solving pressure points that keep people from performing at their best. Organize a series of internal focus groups, preferably facilitated by someone neutral and attended by a few senior leaders, and address questions like:

  1. How would you describe our company culture in 3 words?
  2. What characteristics about our corporate culture are working well?
  3. What characteristics about it might be worth changing? (if you know there are some challenging areas you can offer categories, such as career development practices, decision making, teamwork across the business, customer service).
  4. What actions would you most like to suggest leaders take, to improve our company culture?
  5. What actions do you feel passionate about taking, to make culture change happen?

If you have a morale or trust issue in the organization, it will be more effective to organize these groups with anonymity so employees are more likely to speak openly. Have a neutral (outside) facilitator compile results for the senior team, then construct a debriefing process to thank  employees for their input and lets them know how it will be acted upon.

3)      Act … Versus Talk. Nowhere is “KISS” more important than in culture (keep it simple sweetie.) Culture is like health – an ongoing journey that never “ends.” The best results come from identifying 1 or 2 new habits that will make a big difference, and focus just on implementing THOSE well, in a way that is sustainable.  Show you are listening to your people in the feedback stage, by using some of the words and ideas that came from employees. Research – as well as 15 years’ experience doing culture work – has taught us that the people inside the organization usually have the best ideas, and know the problems needing attention.  They just haven’t been asked in a way they can participate in being part of the solution.

If you consider culture like your health – something you are always working on; a journey more than a destination, then culture becomes an important element in the growth of your business.

Treat it with care and conscious attention, and it will carry you far.

Comments ( 2 )

  • Jim Morris


    This is a great, simple and wise piece. I especially like the questions you suggest asking as part of the focus group process. Your last point is so important – acting on what is learned, however modest the initial act, reassures employees that their voices were heard. Engagement is the first step to improvement!

  • Ron Fritz


    Well done. One can never be reminded enough how important it is to keep a close eye on company health, and like your physical health, consistently tend to it.

    -Ron Fritz


    Tech Soft 3D

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