For entrepreneurs, one of the most important things to do when growing is to instill the right culture into employees. As the entrepreneur focuses more on the business, it’s likely that the employees are left to interact with one another, and clients, on the owner’s behalf.
Finding and implementing the right culture has been an obsession for me. I believe it is critical and can make the difference between little and 10 percent growth. Using Harvard Business School’s definition of culture, which consists of values, behaviors, measures and actions, it becomes clear how it can permeate business metric, from retention to revenue growth. Yet, of these elements, the hardest is establishing behaviors.
In The Go-Giver, Bob Burg and John David Mann frame these behaviors in the context of servant leadership as a way to develop tangible and replicable processes. Using principles from The Go-Giver as a baseline, here are four foundational steps to affecting real change in culture:
Leverage a disruptive force.
Affecting real and lasting change in corporate culture can’t happen gradually. There must be a disruptive force. It is typically a major disruption, such as a new CEO, a large customer win or loss, or an important acquisition. But the disruptive force can also be a change in perception, such as finding a new article or coming across a book.
Humans by nature are creatures of habit, so getting an entire organization on board to create a desired culture requires much more than a corporate newsletter, social committee or an email from HR. Lasting change starts at the top and works its way down.
Establish a game plan with a ‘commitment to persistence.’
Creating a corporate culture takes more than just stating a goal. It requires a comprehensive strategy and attention that never wavers. The reason that New Year’s resolutions often fail is that they are blanket statements without a step-by-step plan. Likewise, building a corporate culture is about being intentional and prioritizing competing interests.
If a company wants to foster a new culture, the CEO must give it the resources it needs to succeed. At Aldera, one of the things we have created to foster a strong culture is our Leadership Academy, where the next generation of company leaders get together for full- and half-day hands-on seminars over the course of a semester. The top leadership’s schedules are planned around these seminars, not the other way around. No travel; no meetings.
Additionally, during the holidays, we implemented programs to help alleviate some outside stress. For example, we brought in lunch three days a week, addressed holiday cards for employees and provided gift-wrapping services. Simple things, when prioritized and done right, can have a tremendous impact.
Recognize and reward positive behavior.
B.F. Skinner showed when a positive stimulus is presented as a reward for a desired behavior, the subject will repeat that behavior. Scientific experiments aside, recognizing and rewarding employees publicly, and empowering them to spontaneously acknowledge one another, is the most powerful way leaders have to encourage the right behavior.
Employers should set up a reward system with different tiers of rewards. Within our servant leadership model, coworkers can recognize each other with gift cards in appreciation for an act of excellence, with no questions asked from management. The same is done when a customer recognizes an employee.
Most people talk a good game about corporate culture. They share what they think their culture is or what they aspire for it to be, but then they do little to make it a reality. That’s where I was before The Go-Giver. Just as we would never accept a salesperson who sat around idly waiting for prospects to call, neither should we as business leaders expect the culture we want to happen on its own.