Don’t Fix Culture, Fix What Drives Culture

Early into a new client engagement it’s not unusual for the CEO to say to me, “We need to fix our culture.” I understand the concern. After all, many studies have shown that culture is strongly associated with business performance and results.
Yet while culture can influence performance and results, culture itself is a by-product of two things: people and environment. Having the kind of people who are aligned with the culture you want, and creating the kind of environment in which that culture will flourish.
Let’s say you want to create a culture of continuous improvement. You don’t want people simply going through the motions or doing things as they’ve always been done. You want them questioning why things are done the way they are, imagining how they could be done better, and taking appropriate action.
Are you hiring the kind of people who will embody that culture? Do you emphasize it in your recruitment process so that you’re attracting the right talent? In your selection process do you ask for examples of what improvements they have imagined and acted on in their current and previous roles? (If you want to know whether a person is strongly oriented towards continuous improvement, ask this question at the end of the interview: What are the top 3 things we should do to make this interview process more effective in the future?)
Are you creating the kind of environment in which a culture of continuous improvement will thrive? Do you communicate continuous improvement as one of the company’s strategic objectives? Is it woven into individual job expectations?
Do you focus on improvement goals and measures, not just performance goals and measures? Have you provided your people with the skills to identify and act on opportunities for improvement? Do they have the authority to highlight such opportunities and take appropriate action? Are they recognized and reinforced for doing so? And if a well-intended action doesn’t lead to improvement, are they encouraged to learn and to continue trying to improve things?
People and environment are what create culture. The goal isn’t to fix culture. It’s to get the right kind of people and create the right environment in which the desired culture will take root and grow.
Fix what you do to ensure that happens.
Make it happen.
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