Build Your Organization’s Cultural Core


In this ever-changing world of work, I’m going to go out on a proverbial limb and vote for stability. Not the kind of stability that shoots you in the foot and has the potential to signal an organization’s downfall (resting on laurels, complacency, lack of customer connection). I’m speaking of the kind of internal stability that allows your organization’s engines to really rev and take flight. The kind of security borne of trust and understanding

The idea may sound esoteric and difficult to grasp. Never the less, discussing its presence is vital. It is essential because great employees do not simply leave bad bosses — they run (where possible) from an unhealthy culture. We have wrung our hands over various constructs that swirl around that core; engagement; turnover; commitment; loyalty. However, if we do not first take aim to affect our cultural core, forward progress is stymied.

Communication and Energy
One thing remains salient (at least from my perspective). You can’t positively affect the organization’s cultural core without bringing your team along. There has to be trust. There must be communication. There has to be the recognition that your people are your organization. How your traditions, mores and accepted processes affect them is critical. That is your culture.

People provide the energy to start the organizational engines.  If the mission of your organization is misunderstood or mistranslated, your cultural core — so to speak — is weakened. Sometimes we simply forget people and we run ahead without them. We forget to ask if they are still “with us”. Or they were never on board to begin with. Same difference. We all lose.

We didn’t even bother to ask. Shame on us.

Creating Organizational Safety
We then must circle back with great haste. This kind of stability demands open conversations about how the work is done, the goals and the direction we are traveling. It requires a conversation about growth and career. It also requires planning for the future (competency-wise) — even if that future is a tad fuzzy.

I would hypothesize that for the period time before great success or innovation, the organization was likely stable in some sense at the core — and this provides a sense of safety (ethical leadership, strong teams, adequate resources, etc.) It may seem that successes are borne from one Eureka moment — but there was likely a safe core there. People fully understood they were “culturally” safe and they were free to seek excellence.

Even with the whirlwind of activity around them in the external environment, that built stability was present.

Here are 6 elements to keep in mind when  building out the core of your team or organization:

  • Examine competencies. It’s really nonsense that the notion of competencies is dead for organizations. What’s dead is the idea that these never change and they should be left alone. What’s also dead it that we should use these as “hammers” to drive performance.
  • Build trust. Trust comes in many varieties and it needs to be attended to. Trust in leadership, communication and the potential to succeed — should at least be considered.
  • Temper key risks. How your employees view and process risk is an interesting cultural litmus test. When thinking of doing something remarkable or different, what goes through their minds? Excitement? Fear? Obstacles?
  • Examine growth. Does your culture allow your employees to grow or does it force contributors to protect their turf? Does your culture reward team players who help others thrive?
  • Conversations are king. You cannot align your team without exploring how they feel about their own aspirations and the environment in which they work. This starts with your core team and cascades throughout the organization.
  • Metrics. Strengthening your core requires an organization to look at new markers of success. (Remember Marshall Goldsmith’s quote: “What got who here, won’t get you there”.) This also requires you to examine the drivers of those measures honestly.

From your perspective, how does an organization’s core affect work life? Share that below.

Dr. Marla Gottschalk is an Industrial/Organizational Psychologist.  She is the Director of Organizational Development at Allied Talent. Her posts on workplace topics have appeared in Forbes, The Huffington Post, US News & World Report and The World Economic Forum.

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