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Posted: January 17, 2014

Best of CoBiz: Three simple ideas to improve your business culture

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Lisa Jackson

Your company culture is like a kid's personality: a blend of the parents' DNA and experience over the years. Much cannot (and should not) be changed about it. As a parent, your job is to provide a structure and system that makes sense - ie, the family culture - to allow the right balance of boundaries, self-expression and freedom for each person to grow. If you've done it, you know getting this balance is not always easy.

As a leader who owns their role as "culture steward," there are a few practices you can implement right away to greatly improve a business environment's ability to perform better, and when you get it right, individual personalities become less of a focal point. (If one child is over-seeking and getting attention in a family, this is often a clue the family system needs tweaking to support better behavior).

Practice #1 of 3:

A success theme catalyzes teamwork. Left unchecked, people are competitive. Most organizations are mini-tribes of fiefdoms that do not collaborate or connect their efforts internally. Usually this is enabled by goals that are too high level, too vague, or too narrow for each person to see how they "move the needle" for the company, and which do not generate a sense of "all for one, one for all." Line of sight between each person and the company's performance energizes teamwork.

Further, what defines success for an organization is often complicated or flooded with technical financial jargon that even the CFO can't remember it without looking at the reports. For it to work it's magic, a success theme needs to be top-of-mind and on everyone's lips.

Think for a moment how you can name your success theme, simply.

"We just merged. This year's theme is unifying our companies to win market growth in _______, _______ and _________ markets this year. What's exciting about that for me personally is ______________." Then, prepare a simple example of how individuals in each department can help: "Marketing can _____, Sales can _________, Operations can ________, Finance can ___________."

A good success theme will build on what's already worked in the past, or is working - rather than create a brand new concept. (evolution is less painful than revolution!). In one company, the CEO sends a simple, personal email about "actions I saw this week" that helped the organization accomplish its success theme. He chooses them to highlight all the areas of the company who are working hard to meet the goal - in which he names people.

Magic is happening and energy is building as a result. When you clearly show people the pathway to taking greater ownership, most want to run on that path. The remedy is being clear and specific.

And it helps if you see your role as "team facilitator." At least 20 percent of your time should be spent each week directly communicating with key influencers in your organization about this year's success theme - and unearthing those success stories. That is how you send a message that winning is a team effort.
 

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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Readers Respond

Loved the article. Wanted to let you know there is a word you need to correct in the article. Says them but should be theme. See copy of paragraph below. "Further, what defines success for an organization is often complicated or flooded with technical financial jargon that even the CFO can't remember it without looking at the reports. For it to work it's magic, a success THEM (should be THEME) needs to be top-of-mind and on everyone's lips." By Cindy on 2012 02 21
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