By Candace Coleman, CultureWise Content Manager
Professionals whose careers focus on the people within an organization understand the importance of culture. Most HR managers coordinate with their CEO to foster a culture that helps employees grasp the company’s overall vision and improves team members’ work experiences.
But many people may not realize that corporate culture has the potential to have a much more powerful impact than fostering ideals and making the workplace more enjoyable. When a culture initiative is planned and structured correctly, it can generate overall success for a company and give it a competitive advantage.
What’s more, a high performing culture isn’t just another human resource initiative to manage; it can help cure many of the biggest HR headaches.
What’s a High Performing Culture?
The essence of a company’s culture is how people act on the job and the attitudes they have about their work and the people they interact with. If these everyday behaviors are positive, they can be the catalyst that positions a company to out-pace the competition. If not, they can be the source of an organization’s decline and ongoing HR issues.
Prevailing behaviors aren’t left up to chance in a high performing culture. A culture initiative that zeroes in on improving key behaviors will translate into motivated, purpose-driven employees who feel good about their jobs. The result is a much healthier organization and far fewer HR woes.
Creating a High Performing Culture is a Process
The first step in developing a high performing culture is to define the actions and attitudes that will make individuals and the organization more successful. To do that, leaders should evaluate their company goals and priorities and then determine the positive behaviors in every aspect of work that would make those things achievable.
Unlike abstract “company values” that may mean different things to various people, employees should be able to clearly interpret these behaviors and understand what it means to embody them.
Once the behaviors have been identified and defined, they should be routinely reinforced and practiced company-wide until they become second nature to every team member.
How Culture Can Help Overcome Top HR Challenges
While every company is different, most of the behaviors that reflect a strong organizational culture are remarkably similar. The work habits and attitudes that drive success in an accounting firm are very much like the ones that propel a construction company, medical practice, or manufacturing plant.
Here are five of the biggest hurdles for HR professionals—and the behaviors built into a high performing culture that can address them.
1. Finding the Right Talent
As we emerge from the pandemic, the “war for talent” is revving back up. Finding and hiring quality staff continues to be most HR managers’ top concern. As anyone in that position can attest, the potential to be a top performer involves a lot more than a resume studded with accomplishments.
Equally important is the ability to work effectively with the existing team and align with company goals. It’s impossible to know if job candidates fill that bill unless an organization has identified preferred behaviors and made them operational norms.
In companies with a high performing culture, interviewers can use these defined behaviors as a metric while evaluating job seekers. Culture-based questions can help differentiate candidates whose work ethic and attitude will make them good fits from those who merely look impressive on paper.
These behaviors might include a commitment to:
- Honoring Commitments
- Investing in Relationships
- Creating Win/Win Solutions
The process works in favor of both parties. Job seekers are also looking for an employer with qualities that line up with their ideals. According to the Robert Half firm, more than one-third of workers would pass on a great job offer if they didn’t think they fit with the culture. But companies that radiate a strong culture are highly attractive to top talent.
2. Diversity and Inclusion
Creating and managing a diverse staff who work harmoniously is a top HR goal and challenge. Studies show that a workforce with people of multiple generations, ethnicities, cultures, and identities significantly broadens a company’s potential for success. But business news is also rife with stories of divisiveness, in-fighting—and, when things go too far, lawsuits.
Problems occur when diversity and inclusion policies are part of a company’s doctrine but not practiced by the people who work there. This imbalance can be corrected by embedding an inclusion initiative within the organization’s culture. That way, the policy is brought to life as positive behaviors are openly discussed and reinforced.
The objective is to encourage behaviors that forge a balance between celebrating:
- The unique qualities that each person brings to the table.
- The basic qualities we have in common that bind us together.
With those dual goals in mind, regularly coached behaviors that support and empower all individuals might include:
- Embracing Diverse Perspectives
- Walking in Other’s Shoes
- Treating everyone with dignity and respect
3. Conflict Resolution
Every HR professional dreads having to sort out conflicts between team members. It’s an inevitable part of their job, but ongoing workplace drama can consume so much time and energy that other HR priorities go unattended. Meanwhile, the team’s productivity dips, and quality suffers because even people who aren’t directly involved are distracted by the tension.
When behaviors are defined, taught, and practiced as part of a culture program, people are provided with a set of guidelines, so knee-jerk reactions are less frequent. If issues arise, HR managers can use the “common language” that describes the culture’s preferred behaviors to prompt productive discussions.
Some cultural behaviors that can alleviate conflict are:
- Practicing Blameless Problem-Solving
- AssumING Positive Intent
- CheckING the Ego at the Door
An effective exercise for an HR professional who needs to resolve a conflict might be to have the people involved talk about how one of their standard behaviors could be used to overcome differences.
4. Developing Leaders
The World Federation of People Management Associations reports that:
“ Across the globe leadership development has been identified as a critical strategic initiative in ensuring that the right employees are retained, that the culture of the organization supports performance from within to gain market position, and that managers are equipped to take on leadership roles of the future so that the organization is viable in the long term.”
HR pros are challenged to develop leaders in two ways. They need to:
- Help people currently in supervisory positions to lead more effectively.
- Build team members’ skills so they can become the next generation of leaders.
Current Internal Leaders
A 2019 Robert Half survey of over 2,800 workers in 28 US cities revealed that almost half of the respondents had quit jobs due to a bad manager. Aside from the ensuing attrition being incredibly expensive for employers, poor managers take a toll on overall morale—affecting productivity, quality, and service.
There will always be some incorrigible bad apples, but ineffective managers can usually be taught better leadership skills, and most would jump at the chance to improve. A strong culture that promotes the right leadership behaviors gives managers the tools they need to excel.
And if a clearly defined culture is in place, it’s easy to spot managers who go against the grain. If they don’t align with the culture, they should be rooted out so that they don’t drive others away.
Good behaviors to include that help improve management tactics are:
- Leading by Example
- Acting with Integrity
Future Internal Leaders
Newer hires or younger employees can form the next wave of leadership in an organization. But many of the best people in this demographic don’t stay in their positions long enough to climb the ladder.
Many employers don’t offer formal job advancement training because they feel it’s too expensive. But opportunities for personnel development don’t necessarily cost a lot of money.
When a culture is designed to teach workers how to improve every aspect of what they do, workers are constantly encouraged to grow. They develop effective habits that strengthen their abilities, so they’re better prepared to take the next step in leadership when opportunities arise.
Some behaviors that promote personal growth are:
- Being relentless about improvement
- Thinking and acting like an owner
Keeping strong employees on board is just as crucial as attracting top talent. Sturdy retention ensures a continuous flow of productivity, quality maintenance, and consistent service. Steady turnover not only threatens overall efficiencies; it’s expensive.
The Society for Human Resource Management reports that the expenses incurred for one employee exit will cost the organization six to nine months of that person’s salary. Factored into that dollar number are costs relating to:
- Job advertising
- Pre-hire assessments
- Temp help
In addition to poor managers and lack of learning opportunities, one of the top reasons people quit their jobs is that they simply don’t feel a connection with their employer. A high performing culture can encourage employee engagement by actively involving them in positive process improvement every day.
Part of a strong culture program is to continuously teach and encourage core behaviors. People can’t help but be more plugged in when every team member regularly participates in exercises that enhance their performance. They develop a deeper sense of purpose and become more aligned with one another and organizational goals.
HR should loop recruits into the cultural experience as soon as they begin onboarding activities and make sure seasoned staff members continue to be stimulated by the program.
Building connections through culture is more important than ever as remote and hybrid workforces play an increasingly larger role in the business world. HR managers can leverage communication tools to engage people with company culture wherever they may be working.
One of the top practices that strengthens retention is recognition of employees’ contributions. Yet, according to a survey commissioned by author and leadership expert David Novak at OGO, 82% of employed Americans don’t feel that they’re recognized enough for their achievements on the job.
One of the simplest but most effective ways to build employee loyalty is to tell people who are excelling in big and small ways that they are doing a great job.
Behaviors that encourage retention include:
- BEING A LIFELONG LEARNER
- MAKING A DIFFERENCE
- PROVIDING MEANINGFUL ACKNOWLEDGEMENT
How to Build a Better Culture: HR Tips & Resources
A workforce supported by a Human Resources manager or team probably has a reasonably good culture in place. But if the culture isn’t helping to solve HR problems, it can be strengthened and improved to function in the best interest of employees and the company.
A company’s culture doesn’t become exceptional on its own, and HR managers know that people won’t comply if they’re simply told to change. Leaders must intentionally engage in a process to transform their culture.
Once a business owner or CEO commits to building a high-performing culture, HR teams are usually key players in implementing it. A useful resource for structuring culture is Culture by Design, by CultureWise Founder David Friedman.
As the CEO and culture leader for several companies, Friedman knows first-hand what it takes to maximize people’s potential. His book provides an easy-to-follow guideline to develop and constantly improve organizational culture, and it is invaluable for HR professionals. The recently published second edition includes advice about managing culture in a remote work environment.
Learn more by reading a free, two-chapter download.
Friedman also understands that no matter how eager company leaders are to enhance organizational culture, such initiatives often stall because of limited staff capacity. He developed the CultureWise system to overcome those limitations and assist businesses of all sizes to create extraordinary cultures.
CultureWise operationalizes all the concepts laid out in Culture by Design. The system provides a vast library of content and teaching tools powered by a unique delivery system that includes a mobile app. It eliminates much of the time and effort that HR teams would spend creating a culture program from scratch.
Visit the website for information, connect with a CultureWise consultant, or sign up for a complimentary subscription to the CultureWise blog for the latest news about corporate culture.
HR professionals are also invited to attend the annual CultureWise Summit, October 20-23 in Philadelphia. It’s a valuable opportunity to connect with others in the HR field and company leaders and learn more about the most pertinent issues impacting corporate culture today.