Unhealthy cultures sap the life and energy from our companies. Negative cultures drain our creativity and, ultimately, our profitability.
They also create higher levels of turnover than necessary; foment discontent among workers; breed discrimination and intolerance; produce unsafe environments; develop less-than-stellar customer service habits toward our clients, and more.
As business leaders, we must assume 100 percent responsibility for the cultural health of our organizations or departments. All leaders are stewards of culture and must take this role seriously or our companies suffer.
Jon Wolske, chief culture officer at Zappos, is credited with creating an internal culture that leveraged it into a multi-billion dollar company. Google, for years, has also employed its own chief culture officer. According to Charles A. O’Reilly III, a professor of management at the Stanford Graduate School of Business, there’s a clear relationship between organizational culture and business outcomes — including company reputation, employee attitudes and financial performance.
What constitutes a culturally excellent company? How do we know if we’re thriving or surviving?
I’ve observed six specific behaviors that define culturally excellent companies in today’s era. But let me say this: how much money we generate may or may not be an indicator of our cultural health. There are many companies that engage in shady business practices that make a lot of money. Think Enron. Money is not the true measure of cultural excellence, although companies who are culturally excellent do, in many cases, outperform the rest of the field.
1. Mutual Admiration is Real
Notice I didn’t use the word tolerate here. Tolerance is a word that’s popular these days but should never be our goal. To tolerate means to put up with something. In a culturally excellent company, associates don’t just put up with each other, they admire each other. Everyone has gifts and brings something to the table. Sports teams with great team chemistry all have this characteristic. All the players admire something about the other players and feed off of that skill set.
This goes from the superstar president to the installer who is just learning the ropes. When we admire each other our whole viewpoint of other people changes and it frees us to collaborate together in a positive and fun way. Do you foster admiration for one another in your company? Do you tell people what you admire about them to set this example? If not, begin to do so now and I’ll admire you.
2. Language Barriers Are Broken Down
In a culturally healthy company, language is not a barrier between upper level management and the workforce. Many, if not most roofing contractors in the U.S., employ Latino employees. In a culturally excellent company, top-ranking officials can speak Spanish well and communicate directly with the workforce. They’re not dependent upon bilingual go-betweens to interpret everything for them. They also invest into quality English training for their Latino leaders who are restricted by their English skills, thus permitting them to ascend to much higher levels of leadership in the company.
3. Leadership is Diverse and Developed
I’ve consulted for many roofing contractor companies over the years and can tell you that the norm is to see a majority Latino workforce with a majority non-Latino, dare I say, Anglo-Saxon leadership group. This is not healthy for companies or the industry as a whole.
Why are there not more Latinos in higher leadership positions? In some cases, this is due to lack of commitment to English development as noted above, and to be fair, by both the individual and the company. In other cases, and I would say most, it’s due to lack of commitment to develop them as leaders.
In 2015, I had the honor to speak at several roofing industry association conferences and leadership meetings. I would always glance at the audience to see how many Latinos were in the crowd just for the fun of it. Even though Latinos account for around 50 percent of the workforce in the roofing industry, never did I see more than five percent of an audience constituted of Latinos. Something is wrong with this. We should be sending our Latino foremen and supervisors to these meetings to learn and grow. This will not only be good for our companies but for the industry as a whole.
I’ve heard that some don’t want to send their Latinos to these functions for fear that another company will recruit them. All I can say is that if you put your people first, develop them properly, and create a culturally excellent company, the fear of poaching is unfounded.
4. Employees are Valued Over Clients
This may sound counterintuitive, but think about it; good employees are much harder to find than good customers. Happy employees almost always tend to treat clients in a positive way, thus creating a very happy customer in the process. Culturally excellent companies put their employees first. They seek out culturally relevant ways to benefit and motivate their people. I can guarantee you, at least in the Latino culture, that word about how people are treated gets around very quickly. They develop their people for future opportunities. The core of your future recruiting program should be that you put your employees first. If you do this, it will make it much easier to attract new employees without whom you cannot grow.
5. Creativity is Encouraged
Many companies are extremely process-driven (I can just hear Larry the Cable Guy saying, “Get er’ done!”). The mantra of many leaders is process and productivity. They believe there’s only one way and most of the time, it’s their way.
In a culturally excellent company, associates are encouraged to try new ways, dream new thoughts, and challenge the status quo. Stagnant companies cease to innovate. Reward innovation, reward creativity. Creativity is the life-blood of progress and growth. No one thought the Wright brothers could fly, but they did. Do you remember not too long ago when we all used a stylus on a Palm device to move our screens to action?
What are you doing to encourage creativity? Do you create time for creativity? Do you reward creative ideas in your company? You should.
6. People Trust Each Other
There’s a difference between admiring someone and trusting them. Trust is earned over time by doing what we say we’re going to do every time we say we’re going to do it.
I suggest going so far as to map out what I call trust-building promises. Map out and then tell your people — or the person with whom you’re trying to build trust — a series of promises. These promises can be based on results or desirable actions. In other words, you say, “I’ll do this if…” then when “if” happens, do exactly what you said you were going to do. If you set this up correctly, you can expedite the trust-building process. Trust is not about time, it is about truthful actions.
In a healthy corporate culture, people trust each other. I know that what you say is what you mean. I can take it to the bank.
Latinos, for example, come from a zero-trust culture. Corruption permeates Latin America. I’m not saying this to be critical. I love our people and culture very deeply. Things are so bad in most Latin American countries, that millions have found the need to leave to somehow try to make a life in the United States. Imagine, people leaving their own countries because there’s no way to trust that there is a future. By the way, if they distrust you, they’ll leave you too. It’s called turnover.
Trust is everything. Untruthful or secretive cultures cannot thrive over time. Honest and transparent cultures are healthy and allow our people to thrive in an atmosphere of trust. If we want our people to be honest and open with us, we must do the same with them. Trust produces security and this is the one thing that most people want and need in uncertain times.
So, I ask you, how healthy is your culture? How healthy are you as a leader? As we move forward in 2016, let’s do everything within our power to create positive and healthy corporate cultures — as this will spur positive business growth for many years to come.