By Ryan Millar, Olympic Gold Medalist and Senior Partner at Partners In Leadership.

Are you right-brained or left-brained? According to the results of a brain test administered by Sommer + Sommer, 37% of Americans are left-brained, while only 29% are right-brained. In 34% of participants, the two hemispheres exert equal influence on decision-making.

The left brain is associated with analytical, methodical thinking, while creative or artistic endeavors are said to be dominated by the right brain. Stereotypically, those in leadership or management positions are assumed to be left-brained, with logic and reason taking precedence over abstract ideas.

This is where the main resistance to the concept of culture management comes from: many leaders view culture as a fluffy, touchy-feely, right-brained process. The key to overcoming this misconception is to emphasize the impact that operationalizing organizational culture management can have on your bottom line.

Organizations that successfully operationalize the process of culture management increase efficiency and productivity at every level. At these companies, culture yields countless benefits: an ability to better execute on strategic plans and achieve results, improved employee retention and recruitment, and increased shareholder wealth among them. So, just what does it take to change business culture?

1. Culture Management Begins with Committed Leadership

Yes, it sounds obvious, but a company's culture always reflects the beliefs and values of its leaders. Those in key leadership positions set the first example for others in the organization. For this reason, leaders must be passionate about establishing a strong culture, and actively engaged in enacting the cultural shift. Leaders have the responsibility to first articulate the organization's primary cultural beliefs, and then to proactively embody these beliefs, mobilizing all employees to personally engage in shaping the new culture.

One of our clients -- an executive from a major global corporation that has seen significant results stemming from a commitment to culture -- sums it up nicely: "A big part of workplace culture management is having leaders fully committed, because leadership behavior trickles down throughout the organization. Leaders need to be persistent and purposeful."

2. A Tactical and Practical Approach

After my first year of what would become a seven-year stint in Italy playing professional volleyball, I realized that my inability to speak the native language was holding me back from achieving the highest level of success. So I took a tactical and practical approach.

Tactically, I devoted time each day to reading Italian language textbooks and listening to Italian audiobooks. To keep my approach practical, I limited my efforts to five minutes per day, incorporating the practice into my daily routine without allowing it to dominate my schedule.

Companies seeking to operationalize culture also need an approach to culture management that is both tactical and practical.

Busy leaders can follow this same approach, setting aside five minutes to tactically and practically manage your desired culture. The actions you take can be simple: recognize someone for a job well done. Craft an email to your team highlighting the effort that has gone into delivering a project under budget. Stop into a colleague's office to say hello. After just a little bit of time you will be fluent in your ability to create positive experiences for all. Inizia oggi!

3. Meetings as a Platform for Culture Management

Research reveals that corporate executives spend close to 23 hours every week in meetings. As such a constant part of the average workday, meetings provide a valuable opportunity to reinforce your desired company culture.

A senior executive in the pharmaceutical industry writes:

Our abundance of meetings is the Cultural Tax we pay for the inclusive learning environment that we want to foster -- and I'm okay with that. If the alternative to more meetings is more autocratic decision-making, less input from all levels of the organization, and fewer opportunities to ensure alignment and communication, then give me more meetings!

Meetings provide a golden opportunity to manage your culture effectively. Use storytelling to communicate your employees' progress toward results and inspire higher accountability. Recognize deserving employees for their specific contributions toward important benchmarks. Take a few minutes to ask your team for valuable feedback on your effectiveness as a leader and what you can do better. Most importantly, put these items at the top of your meeting agenda so they don't get skipped when the meeting runs long (as if that ever happens!).

4. Leveraging Cultural Champions for Better Results

A majority of Partners In Leadership clients say that if they had to begin their culture management process again, a major priority would be to further develop and leverage their "cultural champions."

If organizational leaders are the captains of the culture management effort, culture champions are the special forces. They can be tactically deployed to address any number of cultural challenges. As one culture champion put it, "My job is to effectively drive culture management. If anyone has questions around ideas, planning, implementation, training, coaching, or internal consulting, they come to me to provide solutions."

Implementing culture management strategies is a team effort -- and successful teams develop and leverage their star players. Identify members of your organization who can serve as the most effective cultural champions and devote resources to developing their skills.

As Louis Gerstner, the former CEO of IBM, puts it, "I came to see, in my time at IBM, that culture isn't just one aspect of the game -- it is the game. In the end, an organization is nothing more than the collective capacity of its people to create value."

Published on: May 23, 2018
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