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Posted: November 01, 2012

Got culture?

You might have some work to do

Merit Gest

Does the day-to-day culture of your business match the statement about your company’s culture printed and framed in the lobby?  If it does, then move on to the next item on today’s task list.  If it does not, then you already know you have some work to do.  But, if you are not sure if your day-to-day culture matches your intended culture, then read on.  You have work to do.

During a recent presentation to a CEO group in Chicago, I shared a concept I call the “Culture Check-In.”  The idea is to check in with newly hired staff to learn what they’ve noticed about the culture of the business.  At the end of the first, fourth, eighth and twelfth weeks of employment, the new hires meet with their managers for a brief conversation about the culture of the organization.  The meeting starts with the manager reviewing the specific core values of the desired culture of the company with the new hire.  The new hire then has an opportunity to share examples and stories of how, in their experience, the company did or did not live the values in day-to-day operations.

One of two possibilities exists.  Either the new hires find examples of people living the values of the business or not.  In either case, you (the business) win when you check in.

Let’s take a look at how each scenario could play out.

Manager: Hi Stacy.  It’s been quite a full week for you and I wanted to make sure, as we wrap up the week and begin to plan the next,  that we take a moment to check in on our culture.  It’s important to me, and to the business, that we see things from your perspective as someone new on our team.  As you know, our five core values are:  teamwork, service, integrity, making a difference, and respect.  Have you seen any examples of how these values did or did not show up as you’ve gone about your day this past week?

Stacy Steller: I have seen positive examples in all five categories.  Specifically, I saw teamwork when Brian volunteered to work with Tom to help with an upcoming pitch to a new client that Brian has some experience with.  I heard an example of great service when I walked past Lynn’s office and heard her on the phone taking responsibility for an error we made and arranging to bring the customer the new parts herself.  I witnessed integrity when we started our meeting this morning promptly at 10:00 am.  Making a difference was obvious when I walked in the office and saw the pink ribbons for October’s Breast Cancer Awareness month.  Respect is the easiest to spot around here.  It is evident during meetings when people wait their turn to speak, and when you brought me coffee this morning, even though you are my boss.

Manager: Great.  I’m glad to know we are demonstrating evidence that our core values do drive our actions and behaviors.

It’s easy to have a conversation like that when everything is rosy.  The best part of having that conversation is the opportunity for new employees to reinforce for themselves that they have chosen a wonderful place to work.

Of course, there is always the possibility that the conversation doesn’t go quite as smoothly.

Manager: Hi Stacy.  It’s been quite a full week for you and I wanted to make sure, as we wrap up the week and begin to plan the next, that we take a moment to check in on our culture.  It’s important to me, and to the business, that we see things from your perspective as someone new on our team.  As you know, our five core values are:  teamwork, service, integrity, making a difference and respect.  Have you seen any examples of how these values did or did not show up as you’ve gone about your day this past week?

Stacy Cynical: I’ll be honest, I haven’t witnessed anyone living our culture.  When Tom asked for help, nobody volunteered, in fact, Brian had to be threatened to lend a hand.  When I walked past Lynn’s office she was raising her voice with a customer and rolling her eyes at me as she yelled.  Our morning meeting didn’t start until everyone arrived, which was 20 minutes late.  Nobody has said or done anything that leads me to believe that we live the “making a difference” value.  Not to mention, I’m pretty sick of people telling me to bring them coffee just because I’m the new kid on the block.

Manager: Wow.  That’s a lot of evidence that we are moving in the wrong direction.  I am so grateful that you are bringing this to my attention.  I know it’s not easy to say what is so, but your having this conversation with me is exactly what I want people around here to be able and willing to do.  It embodies our value of respect.  I won’t pressure you to find solutions, but I’m curious about what you may have experienced in other companies that could help us really live the culture we crafted.  In previous companies, how did you know there was a team player mindset?

We could go on and on, but the point is this . . . if you ask and they have found good examples, you have an opportunity to collect more stories and the new hire quickly learns what will be rewarded.  If you ask and they have found negative examples, you still win because you are demonstrating that you do care about them and the company.  You want to improve it and by the having this conversation, it shows.

The only scenario that can hurt you is this . . . don’t check in on how your new hires experience your culture.  Not only will you reinforce bad behavior among new staff, but they don’t get any sense of being important . . . and if that happens, it’s pretty much over for you and your business.

Merit Gest is President & Founder of Merit-Based Development, a Denver based firm specializing in on-boarding top sales talent.  She is one of a small handful of specialists in the world certified and trained in Emotional Intelligence and Cultural Transformation Tools, giving her a unique perspective for hiring, on-boarding and retaining top sales talent.  Reach Merit at 720-980-1286 or Merit@MeritGest.com
 

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