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Establishing A Positive Culture

by Anderson, Brian Thursday, August 10, 2006
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How does your organization establish a positive culture? In my experience, there are nine critical factors necessary for an organization to create and sustain a desired culture. These include:

  1. Create a shared vision.
  2. Ensure that senior leaders are committed to the process and model the agreed-upon behaviors.
  3. Define the guiding behaviors that support the organization’s values.
  4. Conduct a gap analysis via a cultural audit.
  5. Connect the need for change to business case and results.
  6. Remember that true behavioral change occurs at the emotional level, not intellectual level.
  7. Create a culture of coaching that is rich in feedback.
  8. Remember that change requires a critical mass to negate old behaviors.
  9. Align support systems to reinforce the desired culture (e.g., performance management, hiring/firing, training, recognition, etc.).
Creating a shared vision with all of the employees is a critical first step. A shared vision helps reduce resistance to change and enables all employees to contribute to success. Rather than working at cross purposes with each other, each can contribute to the total success. Empathy, support, communications and opportunities for participation and involvement in establishing and maintaining the vision are the methods for engaging the employees.

Commitment and modeling of senior leaders when it comes to formalizing and communicating the vision are also critical. The role of the leaders in establishing and maintaining the culture is vital. There has to be a recognition and belief in the mission and vision by the top leaders or the culture will not be positive or successful. Though the leadership establishes the mission, which is the prelude to visioning, they also need to establish the valued outcomes: specific performance outcomes and the valued conditions, as well as the desired future state, if the organization will succeed. Finally, the leaders need to establish midpoint goals with concrete objectives, as well apply measures to evaluate the success of those goals.

For a culture to survive and thrive, it is generally accepted that leaders in the organization need to exhibit certain behaviors. Change-oriented leadership behaviors include tuning into the environment, challenging the prevailing wisdom, communicating a compelling aspiration, building coalitions, transferring ownership to a working team, learning to persevere, and making everyone a hero.

However, leaders cannot create a positive culture alone — they must provide the necessary conditions for sustaining momentum. This includes providing resources (financial and human resources, support systems, including a network of people), identifying competencies (new knowledge, skills and behavior required for future cultural success) and establishing reinforcing behaviors by linking rewards to desired behaviors.

It is critical for the senior leadership of the organization, beginning with the CEO, to recognize that this endeavor is not a “12-month program,” but rather a journey that may take up to five years. Transforming the current culture to the new or desired culture will create tension and dissonance within the organization. Maintenance of the status quo will be one of the most challenging resistors, so a committed, cohesive and aligned leadership team is paramount to success.

Two additional steps to consider in creating a positive culture are:

  1. Establish an environment that supports and nurtures two-way and up-and-down communication.
  2. Create a diverse workplace that values both commonalities and differences.
Without good communication modeled by leaders and reinforced and rewarded by the organization, little of the initiative will succeed. In addition, the acceptance of diversity and recognition of new and different ideas will facilitate necessary change in the organization.