"Every company has a culture. The only question is whether or not you decide what it is.” - Jason Cohen
In a game of telephone, a simple message passed from one person to the next becomes unrecognizable by the end of the line. In children’s play, the result is comical and harmless. In a company’s culture, on the other hand, playing telephone is a huge risk. Maintaining and building a constructive culture is an active, day-in, day-out process. If employees don’t understand internal cultural values, customers will not experience them externally.
Leaders should ask these four questions to ensure company culture stays true to its ideals:
1. Does every employee understand the Why?
It’s easy to see that leadership needs to understand the reasoning behind what a company does, but values and goals must be communicated at every level. Deliverables will play out in the hands of each individual and must therefore be understood and communicated at every level.
There’s a time and place for following direction “just because,” but making the effort to be understood has a twofold benefit: it keeps leadership centered and it helps the workforce become more invested and empowered.
2. How does each employee’s effort make a difference?
At every level, people are driven by a desire to contribute to something meaningful. Companies will do a lot for employees’ morale and job satisfaction—and, as a result, productivity—by making the effort to connect the dots between what they’re doing and the initiatives the company is undertaking.
3. Can employees finish sentences?
Consistency is key in making sure everyone in an organization is pulling in the same direction. When parents want to help children learn a good habit, they communicate the same thing over and over again until the kids pick up on it. Eventually, when asked, “Are you ready for bed?” kids can answer, “I picked up all my toys, brushed my teeth, and put my clothes in the hamper.” They’ve heard the instructions so often they know the expectation intrinsically. Employees who can do the same with company initiatives will be more likely to walk those initiatives out in practice.
4. Do employees feel comfortable asking questions and offering suggestions?
People don’t perform at their potential in settings where they feel they don’t have a voice. In far too many organizations, only a fraction of the human capital is being tapped. Too often, companies hire people based on impressive resumes and valuable past experience, but then don’t give them opportunities to share what they know for the greater good.
Businesses with a town hall meeting atmosphere demonstrate a willingness to receive feedback. Leaders can instill confidence in the company’s direction, while also welcoming employees to share what they think is working or not working.
When employees ask questions or exhibit behaviors that demonstrate they’re not clear about what’s going on, it’s an opportunity to teach and coach them. It’s an opportunity to make sure the message is clear. It can feel frustrating and confusing when everyone isn’t on the same page, but making the effort to work through frustration and confusion can produce powerful breakthroughs.
The best schools don’t teach students to be quiet and memorize the information needed to succeed on a test. Rather, they stimulate curiosity and wonder so students can learn concepts and apply them in a variety of ways. The best businesses do the same.
Even the best cultural ideas will die on the vine unless employees rally around them. It’s up to companies to communicate at every level to inspire the people who will make it happen.