As a new year kicks off, search business articles and leadership talks, and the most prevalent topics that come up will be leadership and goal setting (I tried it). This makes sense—individuals are needing to augment their skills in taking their organizations, teams or themselves to higher levels of performance. Companies either want to grow, reverse a negative course, or build on successes—in other words they need a clear focus and goals that each and every employee can understand and benchmark against.
I would contend that the beginning of the year is an ideal time to define, understand and grow another crucial element of performance—company culture. You have a whole year ahead of you, and if you’re a smart business, you’ve got 3 or 5 years planned out. This article from Harvard Business Review takes about 20x further, pointing to the vision 100 years out that a company needs.
In this post, we’re not going to tackle 100 years or as overarching a concept as vision; but kicking off the year with a distinctive and deliberate focus on corporate culture can make all of the other necessities for doing business, like leadership and goal setting, that much more meaningful.
The beauty of this focus? It actually makes a bottom line difference. Businesses with cultures that focus on strengthening team chemistry actually tend to have higher levels of business performance.
According to business guru and Wharton professor Adam Grant, no matter the industry or context, organizations benefit when company culture is developed to accentuate the actual skills and contributions of all employees. He encourages a culture where employees freely contribute their knowledge and skills to others, pointing to research by Indiana University’s Philip Podsakoff, suggesting that this kind of free contribution and employee openness actually facilitates organizational effectiveness by:
- Enabling employees to solve problems and get work done faster
- Enhancing team cohesion and coordination
- Ensuring that expertise is transferred from experienced to new employees
- Reducing variability in performance when some members are overloaded or distracted
- Establishing an environment in which customers and suppliers feel that their needs are the organization’s top priority
Unfortunately, most companies aren’t experiencing these huge benefits… and the main reason is that they can’t get employees to contribute and be as open as they need to be in order to see the end results move up. Factors like team cohesion and better problem solving, instead of being clear results that are achieved through an open, employee-centric company culture, are characterized rather as goals for an individual employee. Unfortunately, this makes it that much more challenging to actually achieve. Who knows how to truly become more cohesive?
So let’s go to the root of the issue—creating a culture built on openness and contribution from all different kinds of employees. There are two big challenges to overcome:
- Translating technical skills and providing the forum for contribution
- Providing an environment and specific ways for individuals to feel comfortable contributing
The first aspect is getting easier and easier to solve. Technology is helping to create a forum that is constantly being built. Knowledge transfer can now occur both on a systemic level, via intranets and centralized online data storage. It can happen real-time with chat and mobile functionality. And it can be recorded in perpetuity with high-quality video and audio.
Think about today’s company as opposed to those of even 10 years ago. No worker should have to wonder what a typical day looks like, since online training and simulations can be cheaply and easily produced. No retiring expert should have his or her inherent knowledge leave as they walk out the door.
The second aspect is often more challenging, particularly because of the vast personality, communication and thinking and behavioral differences that exist within an organization. Finding ways to ensure that everyone can contribute is tough, because not everyone contributes in the same way. However, it’s not impossible. Take even one element of communication and focus on that. Expressiveness is a measure of how a person communicates their ideas, beliefs and needs. We all express, but we do it very differently.
A company that wants to accentuate an open and giving culture for information and help, will understand that providing a spectrum approach to employee contribution will work.
- Think about anonymous suggestions for those who are very reserved.
- Hold town hall meetings for those who are more connecting and outgoing.
- Provide 1-1 time with managers and employees at different levels.
- Make it okay for people to dissent and to be able to present a different approach.
- Provide team environments (even if they aren’t specific to a project or work) that focus on contribution and knowledge share.
Cultivating company culture isn’t easy, but starting in 2015, it has to be a mandate. You might as well create culture in a way that contributes to success and keeps employees engaged and satisfied.