Can You Engineer Work Culture? 2 of 3

Here are 3 reasons organizations should take a step-by-step, engineered approach to strengthen work culture.EngCulture

Available Energy Untapped – Employee Engagement

North American employee engagement has remained around 30% for 20 years according to Gallup. They found the primary predictor/ influencer to be the relationship between employees and supervising managers and whether each employee understood what was expected. Imagine how much available workforce energy hinges not on budget but on every leader’s behavior – whether managers communicate what’s expected and act in an objective and respectful manner.

Organizations have established and follow generally accepted accounting principles (GAAP) but perhaps there should be an equivalent, a basic guide to generally acceptable manager-employee practices. The reality is that too few businesses even make an attempt to guide/coach managers to even a minimum standard of behavior. Organizations mistakenly assume leadership skills to be innate, instinctual and successively hire and fire until they find enough ‘natural’ leaders. In contrast, organizations like 3M continue to successfully grow their own leaders.

Too many organizations are good at tracking what’s measurable but poor at guiding what’s observable – e.g. behaviors. Enforcing a basic, positive level of managerial interaction would raise involvement and engagement levels and undoubtedly impact business results.

Available Options Unexplored – Internal Entrepreneurship

The new expectation of employees is that they must do their jobs while at the same time actively help to look for new products, services, savings, or alternatives. Static organizations that assume industry forces remain constant do not last.

Long-surviving organizations expect employees to think and help make frequent changes to stay relevant. Walgreens Pharmacy, from 1984 to 2000 opened 2.3 stores a week, but their focus changed during the next sixteen years. From 2000 to 2016 Walgreens acquired other chains, became multi-national, and established worldwide contracts to protect its cost structure ( timeline).

The search for, experimentation around, and evaluation of new ideas and methods is behavioral rather than overtly measureable. Measuring the number of meeting hours devoted to brainstorming isn’t the point – it’s the development and protection of new ideas in the hope of developing contributing initiatives.

Protecting new ideas and fostering new approaches is behavioral and, therefore, cultural. These behaviors need to be ‘baked in’ if the organization is to adapt, thrive, and survive.

Available Spirit Unexploited – Defendable Market Position

Many organizations have strategic plans but those with good plans and a positive culture can respond more effectively to competitive pressures. One CEO called a positive culture “powerful”.

Herb Kelleher, ex-CEO of Southwest said, “… we’re interested in intangibles — a spiritual infusion — because they are the hardest things for your competitors to replicate. The tangible things your competitors can go out and buy. But they can’t buy your spirit. So it’s the most powerful thing of all.”*

Building a Culture

Herb Kelleher from the same interview commented, “We used to have a corporate day. Companies would come in from around the world and they were interested in how we hired, trained, that sort of thing. Then we’d say, ‘Treat your people well and they’ll treat you well,’ and then they’d go home disappointed. It was too simple … Or too hard — because it’s a vast mosaic with thousands of little pieces that you have to keep putting in place every day. It’s not a programmatic thing. It can’t be. It has to come from the heart, not the head. If it’s programmatic, everybody will know that and say, “Hell, they’re not sincere; they don’t really care, they’re just telling us that they care.”*

Kelleher referred to culture as a “mosaic,” composed of ‘thousands of little pieces’ or behaviors or interactions based upon a sincere, tangible, demonstrable belief system. To strengthen a culture, leaders must believe and incrementally, daily act in concert with their belief system and set a basic standard of behavior for all their leaders.

The path to belief, however, is not the same for everyone. There are two main routes and both must be employed to move forward. The next post will explain this further along with three practical ways we’ve found helpful in efforts to strengthen culture.


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