Company Culture Matters…More Than Ever

It seems more apparent as time goes on that the Great Resignation is more the Great Job Hop. Some people are indeed leaving the work force but most of the resignations are just people looking for something better. And “better” does not necessarily mean more money.

I’ve heard from a striking number of people in just the last 30 days that the reason they have left their current job is poor culture at their employer. They all have different definitions of what culture means to them but there are some common threads. 

People understand their organization’s need for increased profitability. What they don’t understand is why it seems to come at their expense. As companies report some really good earnings those increased earnings don’t seem to be reflected in their paychecks. They are willing to make whatever sacrifices are needed to help the company. But when the company’s top earners receive salary increases multiple times what theirs are they see a culture problem.

As companies chase the almighty dollar they would be wise to not do it on the backs of the people who create, sell and service the products that bring those dollars in. 

Companies need to keep foremost in their mind that regardless of what they build, sell or service they are primarily in the people business. Failure to demonstrate that they understand that fact on a regular basis will cause people to believe that they don’t understand it at all.

When an organization’s leadership team is disconnected from their employees the employees see a culture problem. When the leadership team tells themselves that culture survey results are wrong then it’s the leadership team who is creating the culture problem.

But here’s the thing, culture surveys can be wrong. In fact, I’d say they are often wrong. I think they seldom reflect the actual “mood” of the organization.

Virtually every person who I’ve talked to over the last 30 days said that they left their job because the company they worked at didn’t care about the employees anymore. Many said their companies only cared about the bottom line. They also said they would never say that in a culture survey in case they “had” to stay working there. But interestingly, they also said they wouldn’t say that in an exit interview because they viewed that as burning bridges.

That makes it imperative that an organization’s leadership team stay connected to their people. Regular one on one communication can provide a clear view of people’s thoughts, feelings and motivations. No survey can replace even a short “off the cuff” conversation if a leader is really interested in what their people are thinking. 

It appears however in these days of the Great Resignation that whether leaders are actually interested in what their people think is a mighty big if. 

The late business management guru, Peter Drucker, is quoted as saying that “Culture eats strategy for breakfast.” He may have been right in his time but today that is an incomplete statement. Today that quote should say “Culture eats strategy for breakfast, lunch and dinner.” Because today, the culture of an organization has never mattered more.

Engaged Leadership

I’ve never been a huge fan of companies doing culture surveys. Most companies that use them do the surveys every couple of years to take the “pulse” of the company and determine what the employees are thinking. 

The survey questions typically ask about how the company is treating them. How the leadership of the company is doing. If they “like” working there and on it goes. 

I suppose asking once every couple of years is better than not asking at all but not by much. What I really hope is that no company that conducts a culture survey is surprised by the responses. 

If a company’s leadership team is surprised by the results of a company survey then that company’s leadership team is not engaged with it’s employees. If the survey was about the culture of the company and the leadership team is surprised by the results then it’s very likely the culture is not very good.

I’d much prefer to see an organization’s leadership team doing mini culture surveys on a daily basis. An EVERY SINGLE DAY basis. The easiest way to do that is to have members of a company’s leadership team do five minute “innerviews” with at least one team member a day. Note I did not say “interviews,” I said “innerviews.” An interview is what you do when you hire someone. An “innerview” is what you do when you want to know how they, are the company are doing. 

For an Authentic Leader those five minutes are frequently their most important minutes of the day. First, they discover how they and the people they lead are doing. Are their people engaged and prospering? Do their people have ideas that could help the organization be better? Do that have family and friends who would be a good addition to the organization? What changes would they make if they were in charge? 

The second thing an “innerview” accomplishes is showing that the leadership team is listening. It shows that the leadership team is engaged. It demonstrates that the leadership team cares.

Conducting daily “innerviews” requires the leadership team to be “out there” interacting with every level of their organization. It gives them visibility within the organization and breaks down barriers that are common in companies with poor culture. 

If you hold a leadership position in your organization then you must understand that you need to be seen to be relevant. You need to be IN the organization not merely at the top of it. 

So ask yourself these questions: How many different people in your organization did you talk with last week? We’re they the same ones you talked to the week before? And the week before that? Were they all near the top level of leadership in the company?

If you’re only interacting with other senior leaders in your organization then the information you’re receiving is heavily filtered. It is filtered by the experiences and biases of the other senior leaders providing the information. If they got the information second hand or third hand then by the time you hear it you might as well not have heard it at all. 

The culture of an organization is incredibly important. Many would say it’s more important than all the strategies and tactics you’ll ever have. As a leader you don’t evaluate your strategies every couple of years. You should not evaluate the culture in your organization every couple of years either. 

Take the pulse of your organization every single day. Be an engaged leader. Lead by walking around and while you’re walking, stop frequently to talk with people to see how you, and the organization you lead, are doing. 

If you occupy a leadership position and you’re not regularly engaging with people at all levels of your organization then you may be managing the business but you’re not leading it’s people.