Business culture eats strategy for lunch

Fad diets may help you fit into a pair of pants, but they aren’t going to make you fit. A new lifestyle, on the other hand, means all decisions (both short and long term) are guided by a certain point of reference. Our mindset determines whether or not we achieve long-term success. Similarly, the way we approach culture determines whether we generate hype, only to fall short, or create a sustainable culture that becomes a filter for decisions and a central component of every department.

Fad diets are so named because of their hype and exaggerated short-term results. Dieting is a short-term approach with a finite beginning and end. Climate—like a diet—is temporary, and doesn’t produce lasting change. Culture, on the other hand, is what remains after the hype dies down. A company’s culture guides every decision over the entire lifespan of the organization.

Pop quiz: Do the following behaviors/activities contribute to a company’s climate, or its culture?

  • An annual outing for employees and their families 
  • Quarterly contests with daily/weekly themes 
  • A national tour to roll out a new product get everyone fired up with games and rallies

Each of these examples creates temporary climate change by generating short-term enthusiasm. By themselves though, none of them change culture.
Take the first example. A company with a legitimately family-friendly culture will have evidence of such a lot more often than a yearly event. When it guides their whole philosophy, they’ll be asking themselves: How are families regularly included in work news (do they receive newsletters, for example)? Do we facilitate opportunities for families to connect outside the workplace? Do we offer flexible childcare options and schedules that allow parents to get to their kid’s soccer game? Now that’s a family-friendly culture.

Bruce Weber, former head coach of the men’s basketball team at the University of Illinois, spoke with candor about his shortcomings shortly before his dismissal.

You have got to develop a culture. I think the last three years all I worried about was winning rather than developing a culture. I am disappointed in myself for not developing a culture of toughness with our team.

Weber went on to win conference Coach of the Year after taking over as Kansas State University’s head coach. It appears he took his hard-earned lessons about the importance of building culture to heart.

Take these three steps to strengthen company culture:

Step One: Define Your Values
Getting in touch with what’s important to them positions companies to build a culture that attracts and retains top talent.

Step Two: Create Strategy Around Core Values
There’s nothing wrong with energy-building events that celebrate success and get people fired up for what’s next. Climate injections have a place. They just need to be a part of a larger plan to keep enthusiasm and workplace satisfaction consistently high. Consider how to keep employees in tune with shared values, and where the company invests time in building and sustaining a winning culture.

Step Three: Consider, Measure, and Survey
The metrics a company uses to define success create a standard for repeatable behavior. Identify five or six behaviors that promote core values, and measure employees’ performance based on these. Take it a step further by recruiting and hiring based on the same criteria (rather than bringing in someone who is thoroughly qualified but isn’t a good cultural fit).

Unlike climate, culture affects people’s beliefs and behaviors in the long term. It’s not about squeezing into a pair of pants for an event only to end up in exactly the same shape (or worse) a couple weeks later. Approaching health as a lifestyle to maintain and pursue each day makes people more likely to fit into those pants year after year without dwelling too much on carb counts, prepackaged meals, or pH levels.

Leaders: You are the most important influencers of company culture. Make sure you’re living it. Take Bruce Weber’s lead and take a cold, hard look at where you are or are not walking things out. If the pants fit, wear them.