Building Corporate Culture: Getting Leaders to Deal with the "Soft Stuff"
The challenge is getting hard-driving execs to subscribe to your credo not sabotage it
Q: I'm struggling to create a single corporate culture that will serve my
small but rapidly expanding company. The problem is our executives come from
different backgrounds, and all have their own agendas. Where do I begin?
--T.H., New York City
A: What you want to establish is a strong vision and philosophy about dealing with
people and business issues that everyone -- from the CEO on down -- subscribes to. What
you have now is a group of individuals -- each of whom sees him or herself as a leader --
with competing beliefs, who could sabotage your efforts to build a company that's profitable,
respected, and a desirable place to work.
Your challenge: To get your execs to discuss company values -- without
checking their watches every five minutes. "Leaders don't want to talk about culture, that's
soft stuff," says Maxine Fechter, a workplace consultant whose firm, People
Equities, is based in New York City.
Consider a weekend retreat -- or if that's unaffordable -- an off-site meeting
where your team can bench their natural, competitive instincts and collaborate
on where they'd like to see the company in 3, 5, and 10 years. Present
data on your company, its history, and the wider industry. Ask them to identify
strengths and weaknesses and suggest changes.
If there are extraordinary internal conflicts brewing, interview
troublemakers privately beforehand. Encourage participation by making it clear you value your
managers' business experience. If you do, "people will be less likely to
sabotage progress and more likely to work together," says Danette Mueller, a
consulting partner at Leverage Systems, a St. Paul (Minn.) human
resources consulting firm.
Strive to get everyone to buy into the process. "If your execs don't
help build your vision, you can hang your corporate values on the wall, but
they'll never be lived out," says Elizabeth Gates, human resource manager for
Pitney Bowes Management Services in Los Angeles.
Draw up a step-by-step plan for applying the values your team agrees on,
then monitor the results. If the goal is to create a culture that's accommodates
workers' family needs, for example, observe how many new mothers return to work
after maternity leave -- or quit soon after. If the idea is to encourage feedback
from everyone, make sure managers don't punish subordinates who criticize their procedures.
The reward for a cohesive corporate culture? Employee
retention and productivity, a more stable company, better customer
service, and ultimately bigger profits. Get your team to buy into that, and
suddenly the soft stuff may take on a whole new appeal.
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