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Business Observer Friday, Oct. 21, 2016 4 years ago

Are you paying enough attention to company culture?

Whether you lead a public company or a family business, the culture at your organization will go a long way toward ensuring your employees are engaged, which will enhance your bottom line.
by: Denise Federer Bottom-line Behavior

A recent article in Work Design Magazine by Mike Bahr, a senior research specialist for Haworth, notes that $450 billion is lost every year as a result of employee disengagement — and explains why revived company culture can help solve the problem.

Unspoken rules matter
I agree that culture, including unspoken rules and what's important to management, plays a significant role in the success of any business, and also determines which employees will be successful. Those who miss subtle cues, picking up on what's not being said — such as being humble rather than flamboyant and respecting the power hierarchy — may quickly find themselves on the outside looking in.

This can happen at any company, but it's especially rampant at family businesses, where culture subtleties are often “underground.” For example, some time ago, a client moved from a non-family business, where he was allowed to make decisions on his own, to a family business, where it was seen as disrespectful to act independently without running things by the owner. He erred because he wasn't familiar with that culture imperative.

My concern is that too often family business owners or senior leaders in a company are not aware of the environment in their organization or able to articulate the “actual” culture that exists. More often than not, they have an unrealistic or an idealized version of what they would like to believe occurs. You cannot underestimate the power of getting your employees at different levels in the organization's perspective.

Define your culture
How can a company's culture be defined? It takes more than just reading a mission statement. A great way to gain understanding is by holding culture interviews with your employees either individually or in small groups.

Since it is usually difficult for people to put into words what the culture is like, indirect questions will gain the most information. The following are examples of indirect questions you can ask during a culture interview.

What would you tell a friend about our company if he or she was about to start working here?

What is the one thing you would most like to change about the company?

What is your favorite characteristic that is present in our company?

What kinds of people fail in our company?

What is your favorite question to ask candidates when interviewing for jobs here that usually predicts their success integrating easily into our company?

Equally important is observing the behaviors and interaction patterns of those being interviewed. You may be surprised how much you can learn from nonverbal cues.

Once you complete this assessment, it is critical for you to translate this knowledge into actionable steps. Taking on the daunting task of aligning your vision of the culture you would like to create with the reality of what currently exists will not only enhance your credibility with employees, it will enhance your role as a visionary leader who can inspire and lead your company in a desired direction.

A culture's worth
Is it worth the effort to work toward creating a specific culture? Absolutely. Let's circle back to employee engagement.

A study by Dale Carnegie and Associates found that 70% of employees are not fully engaged in the workplace, so it seems apparent that developing a culture to proactively promote employee engagement could be critical to the success of individual employees and the company as a whole.

It's also worth noting that what makes sense at one company isn't necessarily going to work at another.

Cultures, like companies, are diverse.What's important is to be aware of your company culture, work on massaging it if necessary, and make sure it's clearly communicated to your employees.

Denise P. Federer is founder and principal of Federer Performance Management Group. She has 27 years of experience working with key executives, business leaders and Fortune 500 companies as a behavioral psychologist, consultant, coach and trainer. Contact her at: [email protected]

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