Posted by EmployeeChannel on 6.22.2017
“Culture eats strategy for breakfast,” a famous quote attributed to Peter Drucker, is one of many maxims tightly linking corporate culture and business strategy. The sentiment has been expressed in numerous ways: “culture beats strategy,” culture trumps strategy, and the more explicit, “culture determines and limits strategy,” referenced in Organizational Culture and Leadership by E.Schein. The implication is clear: a strong culture is greater than an organization’s business strategy. But weighing them against each other to see which one is greater is an unnecessary exercise. What’s clear is that culture is critical to achieving an organization’s vision and mission.
Few, if any, would argue the importance of culture, yet many organizations struggle to establish and maintain a strong culture that consistently underpins and drives their business strategy. The first step organizations typically take is to establish a set of core values. But where do they go from there?
The answer may lie in how, when, where, and with what frequency we communicate core values to our employees. At EmployeeChannel, we work to build our culture around core values that we refer to as “operating principles.” The word choice is important because we want to distinguish between “values,” which can often be abstract concepts, and a concrete set of principles that guide our day-to-day behavior while executing the team’s vision and mission.
To build and maintain our culture, we follow 3 fundamental employee communication practices:
1. Establish a shared vocabulary that can be used in employee communication.
The first step is codifying your core values in a way that is clear, compelling, and complete.
Write them down and do so with precision. Don’t assume that every employee has a common view of what it means to be “market-focused” or “accountable.” Define each core valued clearly and connect it to both to your culture and your business mission. For example, we explain how being “market focused” means that in “all of our actions, we are focused on delivering highly differentiated products that solve a specific business problem for a targeted set of customers and at a price commensurate with the value we deliver. We focus on the customer.” By stating the core value this way, we are able to set and manage expectations for how we behave in creating products and serving customers.” Once codified, we publish our core values and make them easily accessible to employees in one or more knowledge repositories, particularly the ones used most often by employees. For the team at EmployeeChannel, that means in our own employee communication app. Employees can access our operating principles anytime, anywhere.
At EmployeeChannel, we also use our core values in our problem solving. We believe that a core value is more likely to be embraced and institutionalized when it has real business value. For example, when a task is lagging, the first question we ask is, “Who owns this task?” One of our operating principles is “ownership.” We believe that “every issue, task, program, or project has only one owner. The owner has the responsibility to bring all issues to resolution and to bring the task . . . to its successful conclusion.” By referencing the core value, we provide a framework for discussing a performance problem. This exercise serves to tightly link our culture and our business execution.
2. Communicate and promote the core values of your culture throughout the employee lifecycle.
Make the communication and promotion of your organization’s culture and internal brand part of talent acquisition, onboarding, and performance management.
When interviewing a candidate, be sure that at one or more interviewers emphasize the importance of embracing the culture and its values and clearly indicate that the manner in which a candidate exemplifies the organization’s core values is as important to the organization as their functional skills. At EmployeeChannel, our CEO has the responsibility of discussing core values and their importance to the business during the interview process. He is responsible for discussing the values, their practical application (including real examples from the company), and emailing the core values to the candidate after the interview process if the candidate wants to review them. When debriefing on a candidate, we balance our assessment by discussing both the candidate’s functional skills and their likely adherence to our operating principles. This not only serves to build our culture by identifying the right employees for the business, but reinforces the importance of culture to the interview team.
Similarly, as a standard onboarding practice, EmployeeChannel’s CEO briefs new employees on the organization’s vision, mission, corporate objectives, and operating principles and links all four. In addition, employees are informed during the onboarding process that their exemplification of the operating principles will be part of their performance review process. At EmployeeChannel, we are committed to quarterly performance reviews that are linked to quarterly objectives that are, in turn, linked to our 2017 mission/corporate objectives. At each quarterly review, employees are asked not only to assess their functional performance, but their demonstration of the operating principles. Culture is not something we simply talk about; it is built into our employee communications throughout an individual’s employment.
3. Personalize your culture by recognizing and rewarding the demonstration of core values.
Make sure that employees are recognized and rewarded for the way they exemplify core values.
This can take the form of simple recognition for a task or a major project. At EmployeeChannel, we celebrate the success of individuals and teams by recognizing their skills, focus, and commitment and also by recognizing their demonstration of core values during the execution of the task or project. In our employee communication, we tightly link personal success and company success and functional expertise and cultural commitment. Similarly, when individuals are promoted or asked to take on an expanded role within the company, we are diligent in our employee communication, celebrating the role of our core values in the individual’s success and their rewards.
In summary, the articulation, promotion, and celebration of the core values that underpin your culture must be firmly embedded in all employee communication, in multiple business processes, and throughout your day-to-day execution. And if you're able to do that successfully, you will eat your strategy for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.