Organizational culture is more than a mission statement and a set of values. It is the lived and shared experience of your employees. Culture is readily observable throughout the day—how teams bring on new employees, how an executive team responds to a crisis or unexpected circumstances, how negative customer feedback is received, how mistakes are handled, how differences of opinion are sought out and leveraged, and where and how decisions are made and who gets to be involved in making those decisions.

Culture is a key advantage when it comes to attracting and retaining talent, delivering on an organization’s mission, and beating the competition. 77% of workers consider a company’s culture before applying, and almost half of employees would leave their current job for a lower-paying opportunity at an organization with a better culture. Covid-19 has put a new magnifying glass on culture, requiring new ways for coworkers to connect with each other and collaborate virtually. The pandemic response has given us new insights regarding how to move forward with uncertainty, adapt quickly, and remain flexible. It also gives us one more example of the ineffectiveness of top-down leadership: it’s too slow, it reinforces hierarchy, and it creates distance between management and staff at a time when everyone needs to feel connected and operate with a shared purpose.

Culture lives and breathes each day within an organization. As a living entity, here are 3 pointers to create and reinforce the right culture for your organization:

Executives, Team Leaders, and People Managers Set the Tone. Everyone plays a part in creating and sustaining a particular culture. However, employees take their cues from those with the most power and influence, most likely those in their chain of command. Nothing undermines a culture change initiative more than leaders and managers displaying behaviors that don’t exemplify and even go against prioritized values and behaviors. Employees quickly recognize the dissonance between stated values and lived behaviors. They may even start to emulate negative behaviors because they believe those behaviors have been rewarded by management. Executives, team leaders, and people managers need to regularly check in with each other and their teams regarding how they are demonstrating the right behaviors and reinforcing the right organizational values.

Continuously Evaluate and Discuss Organizational Culture and Values. As we have experienced over the past 18 months, there are new external forces that are driving organizations to really examine how we do things around here. They are digging deep to also understand the “why” of their organizational behavior. Not only should organizations re-examine their culture in light of a pandemic, but it should be a part of the annual strategic planning process, ensuring that the organization’s culture will drive the desired results specified in the strategic plan. Additionally, EMI strongly believes in ongoing dialogue sessions where the culture, values, and behaviors in use are openly and transparently discussed. These learning conversations provide all levels of employees the opportunity to listen and incorporate feedback to ensure that their behaviors are congruent with and reinforce the desired culture. 

Shared Accountability. To achieve the desired culture, everyone must have a clear, consistent, and common understanding of it. 76% of executives believe their organization has a well-communicated value system, while only 31% of employees agree. This tells us that not only does there need to be more formal and informal two-way communication about values, everyone needs to understand their responsibility in reinforcing the desired culture. Yes, HR departments have their role of embedding values and behaviors into all of the organization’s talent practices, and organizational leaders need to embed values into business processes, including decision-making practices. Everyone needs to be a culture warrior and take responsibility for their own behavior. This requires that everyone within the organizational ecosystem become more self-aware and make intentional behavior choices.

The Virginia Tech Hokies know how to open a football game! Let’s take a page from their playbook to inspire shared action each and every day within our organizations, so that we are creating the shared experience that reinforces and drives the right business and mission outcomes.