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Industry Insight: Corporate culture rides on consistency

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All organizations live within a paradigm. Organizations quickly fall into a culture, and they often don't truly understand all of the implications of that culture.

For example, I've worked with organizations who take months to make decisions, and I've worked with others who take only moments. Some organizations maintain a formal relationship with their employees while others take a more laid-back approach. Some companies strive to be fearlessly ethical, while others see business as simply being business.

Guiding company culture

Members of upper management often struggle against company culture in order to implement changes or improvements. An organization that is fighting against waste in its processes will be quick to stress efficiency in company meetings and blame employees for wasting time or product. Some will even attempt to incentivize to force a change in culture through bonuses paid against specific performance metrics. Most of the time, these efforts prove to be both frustrating and futile.

Some leaders attempt to guide a company culture through posters or slogans. For instance, manufacturers strive to develop a culture of safety. They will spend a lot of time and energy communicating to the employees that safety is a top priority. Real culture, however, develops in those moments when real decisions are made. If a supervisor decides to bypass a safety procedure to quickly get a job done, a new culture overrides hours of training in only a few seconds.

Company culture is something everyone experiences but few people truly understand. Culture is simply the way a company behaves and reacts to situations.

On the first day of work, many employees receive training and a company employee manual. These are attempts by the leadership of the company to influence the culture, but every employee quickly "unlearns" what they have read and heard and quickly replaces it with what actually happens on the job.

Pursuing cultural change

The bottom line here is that a company culture cannot be fabricated or faked.

The question of whether upper management can drive or change an organizational culture remains. The answer is that they can, but only if they show that real change is expected. Showing change is much harder than talking about change. Leadership must take the first steps and the steps must be consistent. Difficult first steps are even more powerful.

For example, let's say that a company's executives decide to highlight a new "live healthy" campaign for its employees. The company might subsidize gym memberships and offer education programs on living a healthy lifestyle. Posters are hung throughout the company showing fit people enjoying healthy activities. None of these efforts will produce many results.

But if the company's managers show employees that they are dedicated to making real lifestyle changes, then the employees will start to buy in to the concept. This approach is hard, but it's effective.

Organizational leaders have a huge impact on their companies, but it is more from what they do than what they say. This is why humble leaders are ultimately so much more successful than ego-driven leaders. Humble leaders are willing to focus first on aligning themselves to the mission of their organization. Egotistical leaders start with aligning the employees with the mission of the organization, even when they do not align well themselves. "Do what I say, not what I do," is not a successful leadership style.

Culture change takes time. Culture is a habit that is hard to break. These habits can only be changed by true leaders who demonstrate and live a different course of action. Management and leadership are not interchangeable terms. Management can only implement successful change through leadership, not through slogans or posters.[[In-content Ad]]Don Harkey owns Galt Consulting LLC in Springfield, providing strategic planning for organizations in order to reduce costs, improve quality, and unleash their passion for success. He may be reached at donharkey@galtconsulting.com.

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