All companies go through change. All great leaders have to learn how to lead and evangelize change in order to remain competitive and relevant in their given industries. They also know that the positive aspects of the company culture can be the most powerful tool for navigating the murky waters of transformation.
But in many companies culture can become an afterthought and take a back seat to initiatives with a more visible impact on the P&L. After the economy took a nose dive in 2008, many of the companies that were fighting to survive weren't focused on the intangible foundational elements that make companies great like culture, vision, values and purpose. They were focused on making payroll and trying to rebuild shareholder value. Or simply keep the lights on.
Great leaders and those of us who have made all these mistakes in the past know that culture has a direct economic impact on efficiency and profitability. When the company culture aligns well with the vision and purpose, measurable financial returns are realized. But close attention must be paid to building and protecting that culture. It must be by design.
When you can root out the negative elements of the culture and work diligently to improve them, you'll be on track for building a stronger business and an amazing workplace. And there are always telltale signs that your company culture needs an upgrade. Here they are. Don't ignore them!
1. Lack Of Alignment On Defining The Culture
This is a good place to start. And it should come from the top. Leadership behaviors can make or break a culture. The senior leaders have to truly believe in the culture they are trying to build and maintain. It can't just be something that is mentioned in a job interview or painted on the walls as a "culture statement." In the Navy SEAL Teams, we have an ethos that defines our culture, who we are and what we stand for. It's basically our mission, vision and purpose all wrapped up into one clear and concise - and inspiring - culture creed. When was it created? During WWII when our frogmen forefathers of the Underwater Demolition Teams were swimming onto dangerous beaches in Normandy with nothing but fins, a knife and a satchel of explosives? Nope. When Navy SEALs were cutting their teeth as an elite assault force in Vietnam? Nope. It wasn't until 2005 that the senior leaders got together and defined the exact culture we wanted. It was a blend of both history and a vision for the future. But alignment was key. And with alignment comes clarity for all.
2. Little To No Collaboration
A truly collaborative environment has to be nurtured. It doesn't usually just happen all by itself. There have to be actual systems in place to encourage team members to collaborate.
When the walls of the organizational silos are as thick as a bank vault door and no cross-functional teams exist, you have a collaboration problem. When employees feel more comfortable staying in their bunker and don't feel like their voice matters, you have a collaboration problem. When collaborative behavior isn't frequently talked about and rewarded nor performed by senior leaders, the likelihood of it ever existing is minimal.
3. Low Balance In The Trust Bank Account
You may not see trust as a line item in your financials, but it's there. Many studies point to the fact that productivity, income and profits are negatively or positively impacted depending upon the levels of internal and external trust in a company. Most good leaders like to think they are trusted. Most coworkers like to think they can trust one another. But the reality is, trust-building behaviors have to be constantly worked on and developed overtime.
When transparency and respectful conflict cannot thrive in a company, there is a trust problem. When the environment is overly competitive - and not in a good way, there is a trust issue. If we can't say, "We are one team with one fight and we will do anything to accomplish the mission together," the trust account is low. Or overdrawn. If information flows more readily through back channels and gossip, there is a trust problem. If everyone doesn't give and accept trust willingly, a deposit needs to be made in the trust account. It must be invested in.
4. Existing Culture Doesn't Mesh With The Vision
The culture also has to be designed to meet or exceed the goals of the company. To fulfill the vision if you will. For example, if a core requirement of the business is to foster an entrepreneurial environment then there have to be systems in place to support that. Employees have to feel empowered to take risk and be creative. The culture has to be nimble and adaptive. An all behaviors must align with this. If that's not happening then you know that an entrepreneurial environment isn't authentic and therefore it's not actually part of the culture.
SEAL culture is one of persistence, determination and personal and professional growth. We are common men with an uncommon desire to succeed. If we get knocked down, we get back up - every time. That is our culture and our mindsets and behaviors align with that culture. And more importantly, that culture aligns with our mission.
5. Inconsistency In What Is Said And What Is Actually Done
Talk is cheap. We can talk all day about how great our company culture is. We can post cool pictures of happy employees on Instagram. We can even have a whole section on the website about the culture so our current and potential customers will be excited to work with us. But it can't just stop there. And again, this has to start at the top. Let's say that I am constantly evangelizing a culture of teamwork and integrity but then behave without integrity outside of the office - nobody is going to listen to me anymore. Because it's not real. That's one of the many burdens of command. We have to live it on and off the battlefield.
Focusing on improving the culture isn't a soft-side management strategy. It's imperative for driving great financial results. And while it does have to start at the top, improving a company culture has to involve the masses. Buy-in is critical. The good news is that nobody wants to work in an environment where the culture sucks. If the team hears and sees that there is a movement to improve the existing culture, they will lean in hard.