Intentional CultureToo many organizations feel like they have an organizational culture and yet, when talking with the employees working in the organization, they’re having a very different experience than the intended culture. Leaders cannot build the company culture on their own without listening to employees and understanding the employee experience.

There is now enough evidence to show that a strong culture can help or hurt organizational performance and that culture can account for up to half of the difference in operating profit between two organizations in the same business. If shaping a culture is one of the leader’s most important jobs, then it is important to understand:

  • The feedback loops that can be created to understand “the experience” and
  • Which systems can be implemented that proactively support a conscious culture™.

We discuss these two topics and specific approaches to creating an intentional culture.

Culture feedback loops

Customized culture survey

The best way to truly hear and understand the employee experience is to ask, using a process that selects the right questions and ensures confidentiality in the responses.

At Conscious Culture Group®, we believe customized culture surveys that are designed to meet unique needs of the organization provide the best source of information and ultimately allow organizations to reach their business goals. Off the shelf packages require employees to learn and understand new language that may not resonant. Only when both the closed and open-ended questions are customized can an effectively unique intentional culture be built with the organization’s own common language and terms.

Culture club

The next stage in understanding the employee voice is to create a group of employees from different levels, departments and locations willing to meet with leaders. A key qualification to be part of the “culture club” is the willingness and ability to share not only what the numbers say but also discuss what is being said in the halls of the organization, employee to employee.

This part of the dialogue provides the leadership team with insight into what the numbers are actually meaning. The honesty brings forward both organizational strengths and challenges to further the leader’s quest for an intentional culture. Often these meetings become most effective what an outside facilitator runs the session since it gives participants the perception and truth of fairness and openness in the dialogue.

Effective exit interviews

During my 32 years in HR, I’ve conducted thousands of exit interviews.  Often leaders feel they are a waste of time and that minimal information is gained because former employees do not want to burn bridges. This can be true, and, it can also be a valuable source of insight and feedback.

When trust is earned and intention is clear, my experiences is that these employees will be honest and deliberate with their feedback. A rich source of information regarding patterns and obstacles become available to course correct the intentional culture when that trust is built and the information is used in constructive ways.

Proactively building a conscious culture™

Creating and building a culture is much more like steering a large ship rather than driving a speed boat. It takes time, effort and a plan to ensure the organization is going in the intended direction. Here are effective ways to being proactive in this important effort.

Hire to culture fit

While teaching a recruiting class at UC Berkeley Extension to HR professionals, I spend much of the time on the idea that very talented people can be successful in one organization and not in another.

The best way to attract and retain the most driven, passionate and skilled talent is to ensure they can excel in a particular culture.  If transparency is a key component of a culture, hiring a talented engineer who runs away from transparency will not be a fit, not matter how talented the engineer is.

This requires the organization and the interviewers to know what culture fit looks like.  Evaluation of candidates needs to include a significant portion of the screening assessment tied to culture fit. Some companies give culture fit 80 or more percent of the evaluation weight based on experience. They have learned that talent that does not fit into the culture will leave. Increase your attraction and retention using culture fit as part of your hiring process.

Culture based manager training

Often the weakest link in building an effective culture occurs at the manager level. Technical experts are often promoted and then become responsible for a staff, frequently with little or no management training. It is leadership’s obligation to ensure managers are set up to succeed.

Only when the manager training is directly tied into the culture can this be highly successful.  Clearly articulate which behaviors are needed for success as a manager and then build courses on those culture-related manager skills. Facebook and other organizations studied this idea to ensure they were growing managers for success at Facebook. Examples of the skill sets at Facebook include:

  1. Care about their team members
  2. Provide opportunities for growth
  3. Set clear expectations and goals
  4. Give actionable feedback

They have learned what success looks like. One approach is to determine who the most successful managers are and why they have achieved success as a manager.  Another rich source of information and guidance comes from the results of a carefully constructed culture survey.

HR systems that support the culture

Most of culture becomes visible in the behaviors and actions of employees. Many organizations declare values and may even determine specific behaviors tied to each values.

An recent example of when an HR system overrode the organizational value was with Wells Fargo. Their value of “What’s right for customers” was incongruent with a compensation system that rewarded its employees for opening new accounts. The reward system drove behavior that led to employees opening accounts without the customer’s permission.

HR systems will overrule any other intended behavior and value in company culture.  HR leaders must ensure that all aspects of HR that impact behavior must be aligned with the conscious culture™.

An employment brand that shouts out the culture

If culture fit is one of the keys to outdoing the competition, then it is important to have a queue of candidates who know the organization and are holding their breath to get in. Organizations that make the “best places to work” list have such a queue. One proactive tool used to create that queue is having an employment brand on their website and mobile app that clearly communicates the story of what it is like to be working for and being part of the company. A simple enough story that uses company mission, vision, company values with video of employees loving what they do creates that cue. Apply for a “best place to work” competition to gain recognition of your results. Share employee success stories both internally and externally that demonstrate the intentions of the culture. Be proud and shout it out!

Leaders will not succeed in building their company culture without including the employee experience. Culture feedback loops like customized culture surveys, culture clubs and effective exit interviews must to be implemented as methods of understanding the actual work experience. Employees will share their experience but it must used in constructive ways. Leaders can be proactive in creating a conscious culture™ when they align hiring, manager training, HR systems and employment branding to the intended culture.

Russ Elliot

Founder and Chief Consultant
Conscious Culture Group®

At Conscious Culture Group®, we partner with organizations to determine their unique and impactful vision, mission and values and create customized culture surveys and culture-based manager training. Often our work starts with furthering the cohesion and trust of the leadership team. We want every organization, all leaders and each employee to be more successful.