What You Pay Attention To

In our previous blog post we discussed the importance of aligning your brand identity with your company culture. Afterwards I received feedback from a couple CEO’s that I have known and admired for years. The feedback was that the message was on point; however, if leadership doesn’t know how to create and embed culture then they have no hope of aligning their brand identity in the first place. One of the salient points from the original blog post was that it is the responsibility of the CEO to establish the company culture and that the “holding” or the embedding was difficult. They wanted me to go into more detail on creating organizational culture and on why the embedding or the “holding” is so hard.

The vision / the purpose is often written down and posted around the company in the form of a culture statement, mission statement, brand statement, core values, etc. As I said before – this is the easiest part and we will talk more about providing the vision in future blogs. For now, let’s focus on establishing the environment / culture and embedding it into the organization. In essence, establishing the culture is determining “how things are done around here” and must be consistent with its values. In the end who determines “how things are done around here”? The organizational leadership and ultimately, the CEO.

There are two common mistakes many CEO’s make when establishing and embedding organizational culture. The first is when leadership is looking down at others in the organization expecting them to act, behave, and work in a manner that is consistent with the organization’s values and culture but they themselves do not. An analogy I heard many years ago is – picture a bunch of monkeys in a tree with the leaders at the very top looking down on the others ensuring they “behave” as they are “supposed to” while they follow a different set of rules. The leaders are looking down and think they are doing a great job because they see a bunch of smiling faces looking up at them, and the monkeys below are looking up (smiles on their faces because they know that is what the boss expects) but all they see above them are a bunch of asses. If leadership is acting in this manner, the organizations culture is corrosive, and you have no hope of creating and embedding a culture that will inspire others.

The second mistake is when leadership does the jobs of those they are supposed to be leading. More often than not people get promoted into leadership roles because they were very good at “doing” their jobs. And that is great! A path for growth is necessary for organizations. Unfortunately, many organizations do not have programs to develop the leadership skills of their people. When they get promoted to leadership, they default to what they were good at doing verses leading. They end up doing someone else’s job. One of my favorite quotes of all time is “In the end Commanders do only two things – provide the vision and set the environment. Almost everything you do for the organization falls into one of these categories. You will be tempted to focus elsewhere. If you do so, it is likely you are preforming someone else’s job and they neither want nor need your help.” Col Steve Goldfein.

Still sound easy? All you must do is make sure “how things are done around here” is consistent with your values and allows you to accomplish your purpose while not falling into one of the leadership traps identified above. Before we make it sound that easy let’s think about adding in the factor of how others outside your organization observe your culture. Afterall, the goal is to align your brand identity with your organizational culture. To do this you need to understand how others outside your organization identify with your culture.

According to Edgar H. Schein, there are 3 main ways that someone outside your organization will gain an understanding of what your organizational culture is; artifacts, values & beliefs, and basic assumptions.

Artifacts – When entering a business or a retail location, the first thing one encounters are its artifacts. Artifacts are the most visible aspects of organizational culture. They are those things we can see, hear, or “feel” about an organization. They include the company’s products, the physical environment, the language and even the “air” about the organization. The behavior of the group’s people, how they address each other and interact, and group ceremonies or rituals are also considered artifacts of an organization.

Values and Beliefs – A group’s values are the principles the group articulates or announces publicly as what they stand for or what they are trying to achieve. Problems arise when an organization’s espoused values conflict with how things are really done around here. In essence, this conflict is when one “talks the talk” but fails to “walk the walk”. An example may be if the groups stated value is “service to customer is number one” and their customers find it difficult if not impossible to reach a customer service representative. The talk and the walk are incongruent.

Basic Assumptions – At the deepest level of organizational culture are the groups shared assumptions. These tend to be those ideas, concepts, or beliefs the group does not question or debate. Assumptions are the result of continually endorsed and emphasized values. Basic Assumptions guide group behavior, perceptions, thoughts, and feelings.

Starting to sound more difficult now isn’t it? We’ve just laid out how organizational culture is created by leadership providing the vision or purpose, establishing “how things are done around here” consistent with the organizations values and purpose, and ensuring employees, customers, and other stake holders are inspired by focusing on the organizations artifacts, values & beliefs, and basic assumptions. Finally, leaders must lead by example. They must walk the walk.

Is that it? Nope. Now you need to embed or “hold” the organization culture. While Schein lists six primary embedding mechanisms, the most powerful embedding mechanism is “what leadership systematically pays attention to.” Simply posting a culture statement and core values on the company bulletin board does not create culture. What leadership systematically pays attention to does.

Your organizations approach to performance management needs to be focused on fostering your organizations culture. This practically forces leadership to “systematically pay attention to” the organizations culture. It also shows everyone how important the corporate culture is to the organization. How someone gets recognized, rewarded, and promoted clearly shows the organization what leadership is paying attention to.

Finally, systematically paying attention to the organization’s culture also means hiring people that are inspired by and share your purpose – not necessarily hiring based on a skill set. Skills can be taught; however, it is nearly impossible to motivate someone if they do not share your core values or your purpose.

Find your purpose. Align your Brand Identity. And Be Relevant, Be Resilient… and Be Relentless! #branding #leadershipdevelopment #sportinggoods

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