Creating a Culture-First Organization

You’ve heard it before: employees are tired of change. Consistently, they’re being asked to alter their behaviors and responsibilities, without receiving additional resources or seeing any benefit. We know that when change is implemented in a non-human-centric way, there’s a detrimental effect on productivity and business growth, which leaves employees feeling uninspired and unfocused.

So when our client at a Fortune 500 technology manufacturer called us as they were about to embark on a major transformation – arguably one of the largest in modern business history – we were fast to make sure that they paid particular attention to how these series of changes would impact employees.

Quickly, that manifested into an opportunity for us to help rally employees, bring back pride, and reinvigorate the essence of who they are as a company. In a word: culture.

Culture is referred to as “how things are done around here,” but what if the way you do things isn’t working anymore? That was the case for our client and in today’s era of constant change, culture should be your north star and constant. So when, (not if), you have to change your organizational structure, operational model, business strategy, or need to digitalize, simplify or become more customer-centric, employees have something to hold on to. Culture can be the connective tissue, so change doesn’t seem so scary.

Test whether your culture is your “true north” by asking the following questions: 

1. Do your leaders have a culture-first mentality? Culture starts and ends with leaders. The best leaders understand the importance of culture and realize that creating a great work environment with engaged employees will lead to better business results. Make sure your leaders are walking the talk.

2. Do your employees understand why you exist, and is your culture tied to that purpose? Research overwhelmingly shows that purpose-driven companies outperform those who lack a sense of identity. Your purpose should be the cornerstone of your culture. A strong purpose answers why you exist and why you are unique.

3. Do your employees have a clear understanding of your values and how they translate into on-the-job behaviors? A strong culture drives employee behaviors, which ultimately shapes customer experiences. While some behaviors may need to shift over time, its essential behaviors are clearly outlined and understood. If your employees can’t recite the behaviors or values by heart, then they aren’t as ingrained as they should be.

4. How often do you use the word culture? This is a trick question because companies with the best culture rarely use the word itself. Instead, culture should be woven into everything you do – your HR processes, employee engagement strategy and value proposition, internal and external communications and even your physical environment.

It is critical for every company to define and celebrate the essence of its culture. Don’t wait. Take time today to think through the foundational elements of who your company is, and be really clear on not just how things get done but why you exist. Because, let’s face it, tomorrow the how could change.

Michelle is the Senior Principal at Daggerwing Group. She is passionate about helping organizations navigate through transformational change, with an eye towards creating leaders and employees who are energized, rather than exhausted, by the opportunities change creates. Within this context, she helps clients foster cultures that deliver the desired experience for customers and enable employees to thrive, and she co-creates inspiring yet down-to-earth solutions to solve organizational challenges. Michelle enjoys singing 70’s pop songs badly while playing her ukulele, buying old musty records, and spending tons of time in the woods and on snowy mountains.