Whether we want to admit it or not, company culture does matter. It seeps into the hearts and minds of everyone on your team, to become an essential component of your organizational DNA. I learned about company culture, and its unwritten rules, while still in college. I was working an internship for Ashland Chemical, as a cost accountant in their finance division. My direct supervisor always complimented me on my work. He even said he was sure I’d be offered a permanent position.
In those days there weren’t many women accountants, and the men spent their lunch hour in the gym facility, getting in a workout. So I hung out in the lunch room, chatting with all the women who were administrative assistants. But soon I realized I had violated an unwritten cultural rule by socializing with employees who were considered lower on the corporate ladder. I could feel the disapproval from all my higher ups. Sure enough, despite my stellar work, I was denied a permanent role. That was fine with me, because I didn’t want to be part of that kind of culture, anyway. But it was a real eye opener – and my first lesson in why it’s important to create an inclusive culture and successful organizational DNA.
Study the Unwritten Policies
It also taught me that the unwritten rules are sometimes the ones you need to know best. The unwritten rules of workplace culture are the most powerful determinants of corporate DNA. They can serve as a guide to nurture healthy DNA and raise productivity. Or they can do the opposite, and cause problems that saturate the organization. They can disrespect people, paralyze innovation, and destroy workplace morale. Or they can help to inspire a quantum leap forward as a stronger company, with a more trusted reputation and the competitive edge. After graduation I walked into Federated Department Stores, which had the kind of culture I loved. I landed an executive job right there on the spot. I stayed for 26 years, rising to a senior executive level of what was, at that time, a Fortune 100.
Be a Positive Change Agent
Every leader should have a clear-eyed vision of the culture they want to create, promote, and leave behind as their ongoing legacy. That kind of fantastic work environment is more than just a business model or branding concept. It will attract the right people to your organization like a magnet, and ensure that they stay and contribute their best work. That’s true whether you’re seeking top-talent hires, cooperative vendors, superior partners, or ideal customers and high-paying clients.To inspire and lead, you need to create a company culture people want to support with energy, passion, and commitment. Click To Tweet
Keep it Real
As a consultant, I get to roam around many company environments and assess their cultural DNA like a genuine insider. Frequently I find that the written policies don’t align with the unwritten rules, and that’s the source of their problems and weakened DNA. If you’re a leader – or are seeking a good cultural fit for your talents – you need to look past the manicured façade.
Here are five classic examples of organizational policies that look good on the surface but camouflage weak DNA at the core:
- Companies market their work/life balance to those they recruit. Meanwhile they ignore earned vacations when project deadlines are a priority. Bosses also routinely expect team members to answers phone calls, texts, and emails after hours and on weekends.
- Senior management team tells me that they focus on and reward teamwork and collaboration. But I find out that only individual contributors are recognized at major company events. That encourages an “every person for themselves” mentality, not teamwork.
- The organization says your career advancement is Priority Number One. But they don’t offer you coaching. They don’t give you candid, clear, and helpful feedback. You don’t receive leadership development opportunities, or purposeful mentoring.
- Managers ask for innovative solutions. But if you propose them they don’t have the courage to take your new ideas to their own superiors. Or they shoot down your idea and promote their own plan instead, to try to steal the limelight.
- Companies celebrate diversity and fairness. But they don’t give women equal pay or promote minorities beyond middle management positions. Or you complain about issues like harassment to the HR Department, and your complaint goes nowhere
To foster a positive, collaborative working environment you need to proactively align those high ideals with the power structure of your organization. Otherwise you wind up with information silos and teams, departments, and divisions that don’t know how to communicate and cooperate. To inspire and lead, you need to cultivate a team and company culture people want to support with energy, passion, and commitment. If you can do that, you’re the kind of leader that your company needs and wants to promote.
Sarah’s Application Principles
Do you recognize any of the kinds of hidden organizational problems outlined above in those 5 common examples?
If so, how can you help to alleviate them within your own sphere of influence and leadership?
If not, where do you observe the disconnect between written and unwritten policies that contribute to weaker corporate DNA?
What can you do for your team members to ensure their voices are heard, their ideas are valued, and their careers are supported for higher-level success?
The “power of one” can infect others with positive DNA and become the power of many. But it needs to start with you, the leader. You are in a position to set a wonderful, contagiously positive example.