When it comes to a company’s organizational culture, looks can be deceiving. Even the most seemingly successful companies can get stuck in a rut and be in desperate need of an internal makeover to smooth out operational wrinkles and freshen up employee morale.
No matter how well your company is communicating with its stakeholders, if a company isn’t communicating effectively with its employees, performance will take a serious hit. If you see any of these four warning signs, it may be time for an organizational facelift:
A big-picture view is a key criterion in high-performing organizational cultures. No matter how dedicated, engaged, and empowered your company’s employees are, your organization won’t achieve sustainably high performance levels without a collective understanding of your vision. A grasp on a company’s higher purpose gives employees something to rally around and serves as a source of strength and support when times get rough.
2. Widespread Fear of Failure
The ability to adapt, while always a vital skill in the business world, has never been more valuable than in today’s dynamic environment. If your company’s culture doesn’t support a certain level of failure, employees will become increasingly disengaged and unwilling to take risks. In the long run, this hurts your business. Not only is engagement directly tied to performance, but employees’ ability to take risks is key in creating change and bettering the organization as a whole.
3. Minding the Gap
If projects lose steam after being passed from one work group to another, this often reflects communication gaps in your company’s culture. These gaps can prevent coordination among individuals, teams, departments, and stakeholders. What are one group’s expectations of another group? Are departments speaking the same language? If the answers to these questions are blurry, examine how you can better align expectations and clear up communication.
When decisions are pushed to the top, employees feel like the only way they can make a decision is by escalating the issue. As I discussed in No. 1, employees may not accurately understand your company’s visions or outcomes —or your culture could be risk-intolerant (see No. 3). In either case, if your culture doesn’t support distributed decision-making, it will lower the levels of trust and value in your greatest resources: your employees.
Don’t Be Fooled
These signs are often masked as employee incompetence or laziness. But the truth is even the most high-potential employees need to feel empowered and appreciated to do their jobs well. To move the needle in any of these situations, it takes more than individual intervention. Instead, a rigorous culture assessment and diagnosis, as well as the development of an effective intervention strategy, is imperative. It’s all about helping employees understand what’s really going on under the surface.
Here are the first steps in giving your company a cultural makeover:
1. Do a Cleanse (Assess).
Analyze your organization’s culture. Gather data from members of your company at all levels through surveys, focus groups, interviews, and anecdotal evidence. Gauge the aspects of your culture that enable high performance and those that detract.
2. Freshen Up (Dialogue).
Productive dialogue has to take place at every level of the organization. After a thorough investigation of the beliefs and assumptions reflected in your research, you’ll be informed on how to design the most impactful intervention strategies.
Too often, leaders want to take a cursory look at the data, pay it lip service, and dive right into problem solving. But the truth is that these things take time; culture can’t change in a day. It has to be heard, believed, and lived.
3. Add Some Polish (Intervene).
Interventions should be both strategic and tactical in nature, and they should start from the top down. Some examples include:
- Senior team alignment sessions
- Manager development sessions
- Cross-functional team development
- One-on-one coaching
- Strategic planning
- Process improvement
There is no one right path to action in these circumstances. Rather, focus on addressing the gaps in your company and following a clear rationale, while ensuring whatever path you choose has support from an aligned senior team.
For example, one of our clients, JetBlue Airways, underwent a large-scale operational initiative in 2008 to build culture and improve performance. The initiative brought 200 frontline employees together in a “wisdom-of-the-crowds” approach, where they worked together to tackle challenges — many of which were operational inefficiencies due to weather challenges. Through this exercise, JetBlue employees gained an understanding of the goals and responsibilities of other work groups in the organization and how every crewmember’s actions impacted another’s role.
The result? When crewmembers were included in the process of identifying and solving issues, their personal relationships with the company changed. They felt more pride, affiliation, and accountability. JetBlue achieved remarkable improvement in its operational reliability; year over year, the company’s refunds decreased by $9 million, and its “recovery time” from major weather events decreased from 2.5 days to 1.5 days.
Call it a makeover, reboot, or tune-up: The fact remains that there is always room for improvement in operational efficiency. If you’ve noticed signs like poor communication or productivity, it may be time to tweak your tactics and polish your processes — and, most importantly, involve employees in the process.
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