Posted: October 11, 2010

Corporate culture: your growth depends on it

Use these steps to build capacity

Lisa Jackson

(Editor's note: This is the first of two parts.)

During an economic recovery, companies often experience ‘eyes bigger than stomach' syndrome: "We have a vision, plans, and strategies to grow -- we need to get something moving finally. But why can't we implement fast enough?"

Organizations on starvation diets during the recession are piling projects on overloaded plates and may have trouble saying "Enough - we can't digest any more."

The capacity to support growth (ie, corporate culture) is like an electrical system:

• An unseen, always changing infrastructure that permeates everything you do:
• When it's under-performing or "down" it's costly and you often don't know it;
• Solutions can be hard to detect and diagnose if you don't know what to look for;
• It is either boosting your growth or sucking the life force from it (especially during peak-demand situations such as a merger, alliance or market expansion).

Like an electrical system, if you overload the system it won't perform. And, during growth it needs to be upgraded. Good news: You don't have to be the CEO to have an impact. Anyone leading a team can build the culture's ability to support growth by following three simple steps.

Step One: Determine Your Business Stage

Consider the business stage you are in: Startup, growth, decline.

Startup: Your main concerns are payroll and sales. Everyone in the company can "sit in a room together." This stage is a good time to explicitly define the culture you want, name it in writing, and identify the few core practices that support it - the ground rules and "credo we live by."

Growth: A culture tune-up is necessary following a big stage of growth or expansion (ie, merger), new leadership, or during a strategic shift in direction. You wouldn't run your A/C system for years with no maintenance. If you leave culture on auto-pilot to correct itself, you will see brown-outs in the form of lowered productivity and market share.

Decline: A culture is often blamed when you simply need to reinvent your business model ("Our culture is too slow"). A bad culture won't save an ineffective strategy. The people inside usually know the solution, but leaders often aren't listening. Tap the culture for its wisdom by organizing it to help solve the problem.

Step Two: Diagnose Weak Spots.

The second step is noticing that you have a culture problem. Signs of trouble in a culture include:

• Flat growth and poor morale, but everyone is still blaming the economy (or competitors);
• You're running faster and harder for diminished results - and have been for a long time;
• Employees and managers lack energy, are burned out, and aren't getting the job done;
• Priorities change constantly with no sound reasoning;
• You are losing talented employees.

These selected questions from our Culture Health Assessment can be a quick test to diagnose power leaks in your culture - and employees are a more accurate barometer of the culture's health, not leaders. Survey them anonymously.

1. Our vision/mission excites and motivates me personally to commit;
2. I know our game plan to win;
3. I am trusted to take appropriate risks to make things better here;
4. Our decision process is clear and transparent across the organization;
5. People in our company cooperate together to find solutions - no turf wars.

You have to sincerely request their HONEST, CANDID feedback and tell them it's confidential and nobody will be personally singled out. Otherwise you risk "survey-happy" syndrome in which people check the answer they think leaders want to hear.

Do this survey -- and watch for Part 2, in which we share the three most common culture weak spots and remedies you can use to upgrade your culture power system.

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Lisa Jackson is a corporate culture expert on assessing, defining, and improving culture's impact on business performance, especially during mergers and strategy shifts. Look for her new book "Fit to Compete: 9 Truths for Transforming Corporate Culture" this fall or visit her on the web at http://www.jacksonandschmidt.com.

 

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