How To Create A Culture Of Winning
Maintaining a winning company culture is a major concern for many enterprise leaders because it's a proven factor in financial performance and employee retention. For example, the culture of a company can make process reforms easier or harder depending on the way it responds to change. A winning culture encourages good work ethics and enables creative collaboration within teams and between departments. A poor culture, on the other hand, is detrimental to this by discouraging risk-taking and cooperation.
What Is Company Culture?
Culture is the sum total of an organization's processes, customs, values, and language. When humans engage in long-term group projects, they naturally align with each other to form a recognizable culture. Families, cities, countries, and even sports teams have their own cultures. So, it's no surprise a business develops its own culture, too. As employees develop relationships and networks in an organization, a discernible culture takes shape. Company cultures, though, differ from larger cultures because employees join and leave companies often, and market forces compel companies to change processes, adopt new technologies, and restructure leadership. All of this makes company culture a moving target that is constantly evolving.
What Makes a Winning Company Culture?
An organization's culture begins with the energy that employees bring to work and share with each other, whether leadership fosters it or not. Cultures vary in their strength and in how effectively they support a business's mission. Left to its own devices, any group of people in a team or a department will develop some sort of culture, even if it's nearly non-existent. It depends on whether their leaders are actively leading or simply showing up every day. For this reason, a healthy culture can take a nosedive when just a couple of key employees leave.
In any business, leadership at all levels influences a company culture through their decision-making, the values they promote, and how they handle discipline. A winning culture is one that supports employee performance, collaboration, and retention. It can be hard to pin down the exact set of cultural traits that create a winning business environment, but it often takes just a day or two on the job for a new employee to notice the company has a good or bad culture. One way to define a winning culture is to describe what it is not.
Signs of Weak Culture
A company's culture can be weak or nearly non-existent. What does that mean? It means that employees are not interacting on a personal level and collaboration is minimal. Everyone does what's individually expected of them, then they go home at the end of the day. Weak cultures are not necessarily hostile, but individual leaders or teams can slide into hostile work habits. That's because a weak culture doesn't offer a healthy example or stop bad practices. There are three basic signs of a weak organizational culture:
Lack of Incentives
One sign that a culture is being actively led is well-designed incentives. Leadership recognizes that employees will put their focus where incentives are offered. Incentives take several forms, including recognition, advancement, and financial bonuses. A weak culture will often lack incentives or use poorly thought-out incentives, which contributes to the workers and leadership becoming disengaged.
A weak culture is weak because the level of personal interaction is low. When people stick to their jobs every day, processes are designed to minimize collaboration, and risk-taking isn't rewarded, workers tend to stay disengaged from each other. The result is that a new employee may go for weeks before getting to know their neighbors.
Management by Fear
Abusive managers is another sign of a weak culture. One of the main functions of company culture is to shape the behavior of leaders and employees. Hostile workplaces sometimes exist not because the culture is bad but because leadership isn't actively engaged with its employees. Upper management may not be aware of abusive middle managers in a weak culture, which can lead to costly employee turnover. When a healthy culture is driven from the top, this isn't possible.
Signs of a Group-Think Culture
Culture can also be too strong, so strong that it borders on a cult-like groupthink. In this case, the culture demands conformity over job performance, which can become an obstacle to the company's growth and flexibility. Hiring managers will talk endlessly about cultural fit and filter applicants by that criteria, and new ideas will be dismissed because they don't fit a cultural tenet. Overall, there are four signs of an overbearing culture:
Business Solutions Lack Creativity
Strong cultures mute dissenting voices and decisions tend to follow the majority opinion. This means that new ideas are accepted only when they align with the culture that already exists. Market forces can make changes necessary that the culture will reject. Many companies fail because their cultures prevented them from responding to a changing market.
New Employees Are Chosen for Their Cultural Fit
Talented people in any field are often eccentric because of the amount of time they spend honing their skills instead of socializing. This is not always apparent, but when cultural fit becomes an overriding consideration, highly talented candidates will be passed over because they don't seem to "fit in" during the interviewing process. Talented employees may feel pressured to move on for the same reason. Strong cultures tend to chase away talent.
Groupthink Dominates Decision-Making
When groupthink takes hold of a team, it can affect the decisions made by leaders and the team as a whole. When new ideas are not well-received, employees will become passive participants or leave. The result will be that decisions are a foregone conclusion because the culture narrows them to only a couple of options. Team members will also become more agreeable in order to avoid conflict. The result is a decision-making process that's an exercise in following the groupthink instead of addressing a problem in the best way possible.
A culture that becomes too strong will also discourage risk-taking. This can make it difficult for the company to respond to a changing market. The employees who first recognize a change that's needed will be seen as risk-takers until the change is adopted and pays off. A group-think culture rejects new ideas that threaten any key tenet it maintains. This can make risk-taking something that jeopardizes an employee's position in the company.
Winning Cultures Promote Employee Well-Being
Studies like Dr. Eugenio Proto's have shown that winning cultures that promote employee happiness create positive results for their organizations. A winning culture will stay somewhere between the two extremes that we've outlined. It needs to be strong enough to reinforce good practices and stop abusive behaviors that impact employee retention. It also needs to be weak enough to allow it to respond to changes in the market or the organization's mission. This flexibility comes in the form of encouraging new ideas, accepting employees who don't quite fit the culture, and creating incentives that improve the company's performance.