6 Ways to Cultivate Corporate Culture to Sharpen Your Competitive Edge

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Jan 12, 2016
This article is part of a series called Editor's Pick.

Editor’s Note: It’s an annual tradition for TLNT to count down the most popular posts of the previous 12 months. We’ll be reposting each of the top 25 articles between now and January 2nd. This is No. 24 of 2016. You can find the complete list here.

Today’s business leaders have a ready-made weapon in their competitive arsenal and most of them don’t even know it. It’s their corporate culture.

In a world of commoditization, automation and rapidly changing technology, creating and sustaining corporate culture is being viewed as a competitive advantage. In fact, a recent Deloitte University Press report titled Culture and Engagement: The Naked Organization, draws a direct line between corporate culture and attracting and retaining top talent.

While HR leaders are engaging in conversations with executive teams about retaining corporate culture ideology during periods of growth, research shows that “organizations that create a culture defined by meaningful work, deep employee engagement, job and organizational fit, and strong leadership are outperforming their peers and will likely beat their competition in attracting top talent.”

It’s undeniable that culture matters, and executive teams are looking to it as a differentiator that competitors cannot duplicate.

A game changer: Leveraging culture

Leveraging culture as a competitive differentiator has become a critical business issue. In fact, Josh Bersin, founder and principal of Bersin by Deloitte, in a Forbes article titled Culture: Why It’s the Hottest Topic in Business Today, said that “culture, engagement, and employee retention are now the top talent challenges facing business leaders.”

Given the growing emphasis on this facet of business strategy, now may be the time to review or revamp your corporate culture.

To help get you started, here are six (6) tips for creating and cultivating a competitive corporate culture:

  1. Define it — It’s hard to leverage a corporate culture of you can’t define and describe it. The Deloitte report makes the point that “leaders lack an understanding of and models for culture.” One way to begin to manage culture is to ask employees for feedback. Start by listing the attributes you want your corporation to elicit, and then survey employees to measure whether and how prevalently they think those attributes exist.
  2. Start on Day OneOnboarding a new employee into an organization or onto a new team goes beyond a week of orientation. Realistically, it should include several conversations over time to allow the new hire to fully assimilate to his or her role and to the organization. Those first few days and weeks on the job are the best time to clarify your company culture. Check in often over the course of the first year of employment to ensure your new hire is still engaged.
  3. Live it — Culture comes from the top down. And true leaders don’t just work on developing a corporate culture, they live in it. We’ve all heard the expression “modeling the right behavior.” Here’s where that concept literally comes to life. Leaders who are immersed in and living the culture they want to encourage not only use periodic employee feedback surveys to gauge and monitor their progress, but gather daily and weekly cues from employees through informal discussions and interactions. They also use these regular encounters to deliver and reinforce core corporate culture messages.
  4. What’s your story? — The list of today’s successful corporate cultures is rife with examples of companies that articulate their story simply and in a way that engages employees by providing them a guiding beacon of sorts. Here again business leaders who can tell the story – and effectively repeat it – can inspire employees and provide them with a clear connection between the work they do every day and the company’s mission, values and behaviors.
  5. It’s all about the people — Culture is about people, and healthy cultures hire candidates who are aligned with the corporate culture, yet add an element of diversity to it. It may sound dichotomous, but studies have shown that homogenous workforces do not perform as well as companies with employees who demonstrate diverse talents and styles. The challenge is identifying candidates who contribute that valuable element of diversity and also have traits that will help them easily assimilate into the culture of the organization.
  6. Communicate and repeat — Sustaining a culture is about reinforcing values through repeated communication over time. Dale Carnegie Training says: “Effective communication can increase employee engagement, boost workplace productivity, and drive business growth.” It points out that “when leaders are consistently open and honest with their communication (regardless of the situation), they will gain credibility, respect, and employee trust while driving employee engagement and contributing to organizational success.” It pays to communicate corporate culture messages frequently and in a variety of ways. Aside from visiting offices in person as often as possible, executives could write an internal blog or record video messages that can be shared throughout the organization.

Sharpening your edge

Ensuring that corporate culture ideals stay strong as an organization grows and evolves over time has become a competitive imperative.

Take time to assess your corporate culture, define it, integrate it into the fabric of your organization, and tell the story simply and often. You may find that these practices sharpen your competitive edge and make your corporation attractive to the kinds of talent you’re seeking.

This article is part of a series called Editor's Pick.
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