Traditions Archives - Dr. Ivan Misner®
Organizational Culture

How Do You Create Organizational Culture

How do you create an organizational culture in a company? I’ve been asked this question a lot over the years. I’ve written about organizational culture but I’ve never written about how you “create” organizational culture. That’s what this piece is about – creating culture. In this piece, I’m going to give you my perspective based on my personal experience and observation.

Although these aren’t your experiences – I recommend you consider them and take from this perspective those things that resonate with you and will help you create your own organizational culture. If you are not the “boss,” consider how these themes may apply in your department of the company. The concepts can apply on a micro level as well as a macro level.

In all my reading about organizational culture, I’ve never seen it explained the way I experienced the process. I believe that organizational culture is created through the following three primary phases:

Organizational “traditions” lead to organizational “core values” which lead to organizational “culture.”

The traditions of a company (or department) are where things begin. Although you can have healthy traditions or unhealthy traditions, I’m going to refer to the healthy traditions of an organization. Traditions tell us who we are as a tribe. They tell us what is important to us and how we implement them within the organization. For me, in the establishment of BNI, those traditions included things like a focus on relationship building, education, accountability, recognition, and of course – Givers Gain (to name a few). Each of these items (and more) were the traditions that were inculcated throughout the program in the beginning. By making them such an important part of the company – they ended up becoming some of our organizational core values.

Core Values of an organization are the fundamental beliefs and guiding principles that dictate behavior and help people better understand expectations within the organizational context. For BNI, those core values included the five items above (education being changed to life-long learning) as well as positive attitude and traditions + innovation. Yes, I included traditions in our core values as I realized that traditions are critical to the ongoing success of an organization because they anchor us in the things that create great experiences. At the same time, I understood that innovation was key. Traditions tell you where you come from and innovation tells you where you want to go. I felt both were important for the success of the company.

Traditions lead to core values and core values lead to an organizational culture.

Consequently, the core values that are acted upon within an organization (or local unit… in BNI, a chapter), directly impact and create the culture. To me, the creation of culture is pretty straightforward. Understand the healthy traditions of an organization. Then practice and implement the organizational core values like a zealot. Be a fanatic about sharing them, discussing them, implementing them and writing about them. When you do these first two things well, you create an amazing culture.

Culture eats strategy for breakfast. If you are part of an organization with a great strategy and a marginal culture, you’ll struggle. If you are part of an organization with a marginal strategy but a great culture, you can do well. However, if you are part of an organization with a great strategy and a great culture you will be an industry leader. Culture is the secret sauce for organizational success.

If you want that kind of success for your organization pull out the material that talks about your organizational core values (if you don’t have them, think about your traditions and start to establish core values from them) and put them into practice as though your business depended on it (and by the way – it does).

Culture Eats Strategy For Breakfast

Strategy is often talked about in business schools, in fact it’s a primary focus.  Culture however, is less understood.  Culture involves a variety of contributing factors including a blend of attitudes, beliefs, mission, philosophy, and momentum that help to create and sustain a successful brand.  It represents the vision, norms, symbols, beliefs, behaviors, and traditions that are taught to new members of an organization.  Organizational culture affects the way people within an organization interact with one another and the people they serve.

Culture is key in an organization for long-term success. It is the most important thing in an organization and it applies at all levels, from the top of the organization all the way down.  Rules, regulations, and operating standards are important, of course, because you have to have systems in place to guide activities. But culture is the factor that stands above all others.

There are many factors that go into building an organizational culture.  Each successful company has a different combination of factors that makes their culture successful.  Here are a few that I think are particularly important.

1. Traditions

Traditions help make a company what it is.  They tell the world who they are as an organization.  One way for an organization to maintain and develop its organizational culture and ethos is to introduce and celebrate a variety of traditions.  Disney in particular has been a master of this concept by training all new employees on the traditions of the organization.  Strong traditions that are applied throughout an organization are one of the best ways to maintain a healthy organizational culture.

2. Mission

A burning mission can give laser focus to an organization.  The mission statement needs to be short and memorable. Most importantly, it needs to be a rallying cry for people throughout the organization.  One thing I’ve learned in running a business for almost thirty years is that “ignorance on fire is better than knowledge on ice.”  Getting employees and clients excited about the mission is critical to organizational success.  If the average employee can’t recite your mission – it’s too long. 

3. Engagement

Collaboration encourages engagement.  Get all levels of an organization involved.  In BNI, the global referral network I founded almost 30 years ago, we have focused on getting a high level of engagement at all levels of the company.  This engagement includes a Franchise Advisory Board made up of key franchisees to address organizational challenges, a Founder’s Circle of stake holders to provide direct feedback to management about issues concerning the organization, a Board of Advisors made up exclusively of clients to ensure engagement regarding policies that effect the organization globally, an Executive Council made up of the largest seven master franchisees within the organization, as well as a number of other entities to help ensure full participation at all levels of the organization.  Engagement can be messy, but when done correctly, it encourages a collaborative culture.

4. Recognition

Many years ago, Ken Blanchard got it right in The One Minute Manager.  He said, “catch people doing something right” and recognize them publicly.  Praise in public and re-direct in private.  No truer words have ever been spoken when it comes to building a healthy organizational culture.   Recognize and celebrate successes.  As Blanchard says, if you can’t catch people doing something right – then catch them doing something ‘partially right’ and recognize that.

5. Education

Immerse and engage in a culture of learning.  The more a company can integrate ongoing learning into the organizational ethos, the more likely that company is to stay nimble and prepared for change.  Educating the organization regarding the culture of the company is particularly important to fuel and maintain a great culture.  A great strategy keeps you in the game, however, a great culture helps you win.  Especially important are the traditions and mission of the company. These things need to be part of the ongoing education of all new and existing employees.

Culture is a critical key to organizational success. It is one of the most important things in a company and it applies to all levels, from the top of the organization all the way down. The challenge with culture is that it is illusive.  The best and most scalable culture is one that is managed and maintained by the majority and not by a single policing body or by management alone.

Companies that dominate an industry for a long period of time do so because of a shared vision of organizational culture that is effectively implemented throughout the company.  That shared implementation of the vision is an important key to building a successful organizational culture.  If all the people in an organization row in the same direction in unison, that organization can dominate any industry, in any market, against any competition, at any time.

Implementing a strong organizational strategy can be difficult however, implementing a healthy organizational culture is rare and in my opinion when all is said and done; culture, eats strategy for breakfast any day.

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