Best of TLNT 2017: The First 4 Steps to Creating a Great Company Culture

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Oct 16, 2017

Editor’s Note: It’s an annual tradition for TLNT to count down the most popular posts of the previous 12 months. We’re reposting each of the top 30 articles through January 2nd. This is No. 12 of 2017. You can find the complete list here.


This is the fourth in a series of articles about the way companies are changing – or should – to be successful in the 21st Century. In the first, “Is Workforce Optimization the Missing Piece to Your Organization’s Success?” I wrote about how and why the most successful organizations are changing the way they work with their employees. In the second installment , “The Traditional Organizational Culture Is Doomed To Fail,” I discussed why the traditional way that companies engage with their workforce is not very effective. In “What Makes Change So Hard?” I wrote about the possibility of creating a great culture.

At this point, we’ll address the question of how to commence building a great culture. Below are the seven steps in creating a great culture. We’ll discuss the first four of seven steps here and the final three in the next article. .

These are the required components to effectively optimize your workforce:

  1. Alignment of employees with the mission and vision of the organization.
  2. Alignment of roles and responsibilities with the strategies and goals of the organization.
  3. Alignment of roles and responsibilities with the abilities of the employees.
  4. Alignment of employees with the culture and values of the organization.
  5. Willingness of upper management to take an objective, honest and open assessment of their own personal and professional weaknesses and vulnerabilities.
  6. Willingness of upper management to acknowledge and commit to work on the personal and professional challenges they discovered in the assessment process.
  7. Creation of a culture of professional and personal development as a unique competitive advantage.

Let’s cover each of the above workforce optimization elements in a little more detail now.

1. Alignment of employees with the mission and vision of the organization. This is an area where leaders frequently roll their eyes for any of four reasons:

  • There is often no mission or vision statement to begin with.
  • Even when they exist, there is often a lack of agreement on what these statements mean.
  • There is often a lack of clarity or connection about how each employee fits into the mission and vision of the organization.
  • Sometimes the statements do not convey any real inspiration to people so they lose the desired impact.

Why is this important? Because as human beings, we innately desire meaning in what we do. A simple example will illustrate this. Suppose you are at an outdoor company event in the summer. It is in the high 90s and humid. Suddenly the CEO of the company announces on the loud speaker,“Everyone get in line and follow me; we are going for a long walk!” No reason is given for the walk, just orders to do so. Okay, how do you feel about your assignment to walk? How engaged are you?

Now, if the same CEO had said, “Everyone listen. Your children have been locked in a building with no air-conditioning, no open windows and no water. If we don’t get walking now, many of them will not survive!” How do you feel now? How engaged will you be you in walking to save your children? The only difference in the two scenarios is a clear, explicit statement of purpose or mission and how it connected to you personally. Your vision of the future came into focus right away at that point.

Why would the employees of any organization be engaged, committed, energized or inspired when all they are told is that they need to carry out their job descriptions? They typically have no real connection to the result nor are they aware of the importance of what they are doing. Isn’t it interesting when companies ask, “Why aren’t our employees engaged?” when the more relevant question should be “Why would our employees be engaged?” Having a written mission and vision statement is simply not enough. Do the employees understand it or agree on what it means? Do they find it authentically inspiring or even see the connection to what they are doing? The written statements are only the beginning point of the communication with the employees, not the end. Not surprisingly, as connection with the mission and vision of the company decreases, the duties of the second job (undesired behaviors) fill the gap.

2. Alignment of roles and responsibilities with the strategies and goals of the organization.

Once an organization has clarity of mission and vision, it should have a good starting point to develop effective strategies and goals to fulfill the mission and vision. The important question from this point on is: How well do the specific roles and job responsibilities of the employees align with the potential for successfully meeting these strategies and goals?

Roles and responsibilities often become rigid even though the organization needs the flexibility to adapt to a changing landscape. An example of this would be if a company’s strategy for customer service changes from taking inbound phone calls to online support. In this example, the company may set a goal of going from processing five customer service issues per hour per representative via phone to processing seven in an hour online. The specific job responsibilities of customer service representatives would need to change and perhaps drastically to align with the new strategy and goal.

It is easy to see how the history and comfort of the current job duties can lead to a bias toward changing things as little as possible. With this bias, we may only adjust the current duties where we perceive we must and leave the rest as is. This can prevent us from viewing things from a fresh perspective. The net result is that the job responsibilities could drift away from what is most effective and efficient. It takes a conscious, deliberate effort to avoid this trap in favor of better alignment and results.

3. Alignment of roles and responsibilities with the abilities of the employees.

This may seem obvious on the surface, yet it is a common issue in most organizations. Very simply, if a significant percentage of an employee’s job duties are far off from that person’s innate preferences, tendencies or abilities, you will observe lower work quality, lower job satisfaction and lower job engagement. When these misalignments continue over time, they are not as obvious to the people involved as they would be to people on the outside. Often, new employees are hired who simply don’t fit the job. Other times, people move into new roles for which they are not prepared or their job duties change significantly. In each of these situations, an outside view can often notice things that the people on the inside do not.

In general, as job alignment decreases, the behaviors of the “second job” increase. Some common examples of misalignment with preference, tendencies and abilities include:

  • A sales person who is low in assertiveness.
  • An accountant who is low on detail.
  • A marketing person who is low in creativity.

4. Alignment of each employee with the culture and values of the organization.

This issue is another common area where when there is poor alignment or fit. Here, you will tend to see more second job behaviors. Common examples of poor alignment between the organization’s culture and values and those of the employee include:

  • Conflict between the organization and employee on expectations related to work hours, work pace or work quality.
  • Conflict between the organization and employee regarding the freedom and openness to express opinions, emotions, ideas, concerns etc. that conflict with those of management.
  • Conflict between the organization and employee related to work style issues. For example, casual vs formal attire, direct communication vs formal and cautious communication, open sharing of information vs careful control of information.
  • Conflict between the organization and employee regarding standards of proper or ethical behavior.

People bring their own personal values and habits to work. When the culture and values of the organization conflict with those values and habits, most employees will blame the organization as the cause of the problem. Most people do not objectively consider that some of their own values and habits may conflict with the type of career and life success they desire.

One the other hand, when people choose to examine their values and habits there can be enormous potential for development. Many times, organizational change efforts can be the triggering event leading to people becoming more self-aware about how they are limiting their own potential. When we make the choice to challenge our beliefs, thoughts and actions, significant career development along with personal growth and satisfaction often result. Organizations can realize tremendous gains in the bottom line when their cultures promote and support these choices.

As in virtually every situation in life, some individuals recognize that choosing to make changes will serve them well and they’ll reap the rewards of their efforts. Others choose to stay as they are. The choice is theirs to make.

The way an organization approaches change affects the degree of resistance or willingness of its people to develop. Organizations can choose to approach these efforts in ways that align with the principles of human psychology or they can choose the traditional, hierarchical mindset of “Here is what we are doing, you can change or leave.” The difference in results between these two options is not particularly difficult to predict. For those organizations that choose to implement an approach that encourages buy-in and engagement, it is still wise to allow people time to choose their response before making conclusions about their fit with the new organizational culture. Change is a process, not an event and everyone’s rate of embracing it is different.