Culture is a hot topic. It was the Merriam-Webster “word of the year” for 2014. Leaders and experts across the world are talking about how to develop an agile culture, implement a lean culture, overcome the culture clash in acquisitions, and many other areas of culture change. Unfortunately, the reality is that most of these leaders and experts are actually focusing their efforts on climate and not dealing with the deeper, more powerful subject of culture. I didn’t understand the difference until the past few years.
Just as every person has a personality, every single organization on the planet already has a culture. But what people really mean when they say they want to embed culture at work is that they want to create a positive culture. One that, combined with the people and the products or services that are sold, makes for an entity that is bigger, stronger and more impactful than the sum of its parts. In my view, the route to achieving this elusive mix and cultivating it into whatever shape it may turn out to be, is best served by an ethos that supports and nurtures a concept that is an almost universal goal – happiness.
21st Century corporate governance is a busy job. Acting on behalf of shareholders, boards of directors are paying attention to an escalating list of risks and rewards from a firm’s undertakings. Like many activities within any organization, “the squeaky wheels get the grease.” Other than in desperate situations such as ‘turnarounds,’ culture seldom ranks as a pressing matter in the boardroom. That’s a big mistake.
During my tenure as a CEO, my Board of Directors never posed questions pertaining to corporate culture. I wasn’t surprised in the least. Jacobs Suchard Directors expected me to run their North American operation as an entrepreneurial enterprise, and as long as the returns were favorable, they assumed I was doing just that.
Most leaders can describe the values of their organization, but fewer are successful at ‘walking that talk’. In fact, as communication increases about an organization’s values, there’s a greater risk that employees and customers will become cynical. Why? Because the gap between the ‘walk’ and ‘talk’ is always more visible than we think. As anyone involved in a culture change process will know, it takes time and effort to align these two.
So what are some of the quickest ways a leader can recognize that gap and take the responsibility required to do something about it?
Leaders today know that employee engagement is the key to high performance, so let’s look below the surface and see what’s really involved in creating an engaged workforce. One definition of engagement includes both the aspects of emotional involvement and commitment. You will want to keep those two aspects in mind as you continue to read my comments on this critical subject and understand why “heart” matters so much when it comes to engagement.