The everyday actions your company culture uses to reinforce underlying values are worth your attention. Does your company have this essential culture tool to cope with change?
Check out these situations….
Casey + Co. is a small but thriving start-up with a great production track record and their best quarter ever. The C+C staff is largely millennials with enthusiasm, skills, drive, and, for a few of the key players…Dogs. Dogs that are mostly well-behaved and friendly (operative word: mostly). Dogs that their owners want to bring into their workplace, as they believe, (and there is some supportive research), that dogs can be very beneficial in a variety of ways. C+C’s owner would love to reward her top staff for such an awesome quarter, but she hesitates when faced with making this one strongly suggested change that will greatly impact C+C’s company culture.
A prestigious university with a renowned STEM department has lost a key professor of robotics. The search committee tasked with finding his replacement is faced with hiring-business-as-usual: seek out another middle aged, well-connected white male with recognized academic pedigree, or to seriously and intentionally seek out qualified candidates with more diverse backgrounds to identify as at least one of the final two candidates….
An established cybersecurity firm, Parsons Overlock is negotiating a key government contract that would dramatically increase the firm’s revenue. But the requirement that each employee undergo a process of intense background scrutiny has its millennial, multi-cultural workforce pushing back. Particularly opposed are a few key employees whose families of origin have entered the US as legal – and illegal – immigrants. Will Parsons Overlock risk its company culture to substantially amplify profits?
What are the common elements in these three cases? All of them depict a decision that needs to be made by a specific group of stakeholders that will greatly impact the company culture of those employed by, and/or served by, the organization. Two of the issues, in decades past, would have been made unilaterally by the head of the company, and largely followed without question by employees. But now, leadership protocol demands input from those most likely to be impacted by a significant change in workplace experience. And in order to make a considered decision, all require a serious look at the values and priorities underlying a company’s culture.
Values in Action
Values are all too often articulated largely through language in the mission statement and posters on the wall. But company decisions, particularly when grappling with change, are where values are put into action. Posters on the wall don’t display values – the sentiments here are really more like “beliefs” – easily stated and even largely internalized, but they are not “values”. Values are beliefs in action. I’ve come to believe, over time and experience, that values, like relationships, are key tools in company culture decision-making only through consistent engagement with them. How can a company consistently reinforce workplace values so that the decision making process can be undertaken with efficiency and integrity?
A Prime Indicator of your company’s cultural values…..
One answer may be simpler than you think. Using ritual. Ritual can be defined as consistent actions taken to reinforce meaning. Ritual can also be considered the spoken or unspoken rules, processes and assumptions that reinforce company culture. The way a workplace treats newcomers, or holds meetings, or handles retirements and lay-offs are primarily expected and accepted rituals in managing change. If good employee experience is routinely sacrificed for the bottom line – that decision is emblematic of what the business values. They’ll never say “We consider the experience of those who work here to be beside the point”, but they don’t have to. Their actions indicate the underlying values driving the decision making process, especially in grappling with change.
Casey+Co. could decide to ax the idea of dogs in the workspace – or say “Yes” to appeasing their top performers – but without engaging the topic from all of those impacted – from frontline to back room – the value message is either one of “Power alone makes the decision” or “You have to earn the right to have input here”. If C+C already has consistent, ritualistic mechanisms in place to engage the topic with comprehensive discussion eliciting multiple points of view…. this is an investment in employee engagement; and the action declares that this company values input from their workforce.
Very often, active support of stated cultural values requires an investment of time, and possibly, money. It’s an investment that may not pay dividends in the short term. Finding qualified university level teaching talent from more diverse pools may require placing ads in less familiar sources and engaging uncomfortable feelings around “difference”. A longer search is almost definitely required, along with careful, comprehensive timeline planning. But if diversity is already actively honored through known and accepted procedures in staff and departmental meetings, then these rituals have already created safe space for authentic discussion, no matter the topic.
When there is fear and distrust already in place in a culture, then decisions involving the unknown and demanding trust on all sides are exponentially more difficult. Cybersecurity is an industry with fear as an operating principle. All the more reason for investment in trust as a value within the workplace culture. Often, supporting this value requires very difficult decision making on the part of upper management – this contract opportunity may need to be declined. But again, if there are engagement rituals in place that continually, consistently reinforce trust and authentic communication between departments, company hierarchy, and clients, then better policy decisions that can be supported from all sides are easier to produce.
So what about your workplace?
If your key change managers can already utilize known and accepted rituals to engage a variety of perspectives, then your cultural priorities will be supported and important decisions will be easier to process. But if your company values are not intentionally reinforced and remain tied to posters on the wall, than your business has its “culture work” yet to do.
One way to amplify and strengthen your team’s communication rituals is to utilize a clear structure for engagement that offers a voice to multiple perspectives, strictly timed discussion rounds, opportunities to step into perspectives not your own, and surprising insight prompts: Move your team from conflict towards collaboration in one hour with Shift/POV!