Do You Have an Excellent Culture or a Culture of Excellence?
Publication: Huffington Post
Everywhere you look someone is talking about corporate culture. It’s easy to see why.
The research advocating for a culture that engages your team and makes employees happy is compelling. It is, after all, a sellers’ market for talent, and the best people want to align themselves with companies that are known for being a great place to work.
Social media sites such as LinkedIn and Glassdoor haven’t made it any easier. Job candidates can check out your reputation in a few clicks. Even worse, your best talent can determine if the grass might be greener somewhere else.
Likewise, there is global acknowledgement that attracting and retaining talent that can flourish in a changing world is a challenge.
Creating an excellent culture has never been more important, and companies are responding by providing policies, programs, and initiatives that provide them a leg up on the completion.
The focus on creating an excellent culture is wonderful, and it might not be enough to ensure that your company survives and flourishes in the future.
Who Remembers People’s Express?
Back in the 1980’s, this upstart airlines based in New Jersey was the toast of business schools and publications. Tom Peters and Nancy Austin cited its “zest and enthusiasm” as crucial to its rapid growth in their book, Passion for Excellence.
The People’s Express culture was revolutionary at the time. It was based on building a sense of employee ownership, creativity, and innovation. Everyone had two jobs so there was constant development. There were no vice presidents, supervisors, or secretaries. Every title contained the word “manager,” and everyone in a permanent position was a shareholder.
The initial incarnation of People’s Express Airline flew for only six years before merging into Continental Airlines. The conventional thinking at the time pointed to strategic mistakes of expanding too quickly and failing to integrate newly purchased Frontier Airlines into the company’s network and culture.
There was, however, another factor contributing to the company’s demise – the democratic culture that was heralded as revolutionary in its empowerment also created a barrier to the company’s ability to execute.
People’s Express – the “cool place to work” of its day – had an excellent culture. It didn’t have a culture of excellence.
Need a More Recent Example?
Twitter was named as the top company for culture and living its values in a 2014 report from Glassdoor. Employees loved its rooftop meetings, opportunities to work with other smart people, and a supportive team environment.
On the other hand, Twitter’s stock has languished since its 2013 IPO. Media attention and high expectations allowed the company to close trading at price of $41.65 per share on November 8, 2013. Twitter stock has traded at less than $20 per share in 2017.
Building an excellent culture makes you a popular place to work. Building a culture of excellence makes you a successful, sustainable business. Which would you prefer?
Moving from Excellent to Excellence
A culture of excellence takes your efforts to build an excellent culture to a new level. In addition to being a great place to work, excellence emphasizes serving customers, managing costs, efficiency, accountability, adapting to change, and a high degree of candor and honesty about current realities.
Here are three things you should be doing right now to create a culture of excellence.
1. Make the culture about the business. You want to have a great, fun place to work. But, fun without results isn’t a business. It’s a party.
Greg Besner, founder and CEO of CultureIQ, says that “Employee engagement is a crucial piece of a successful culture, but it is only one component. Operational dimensions such as mission and value alignment, innovation, responsibility, teamwork, and open communication are equally important for creating a sustainable business.”
2. Don’t delegate ownership of the culture to HR or a Culture Committee. How would people in your organization answer this question: “Who is responsible for keeping the culture?” The correct answer is “everyone.” The more typical answer is that the responsibility belongs to Human Resources and/or a Culture Committee. Your HR team should be actively involved in the process of transforming and sustaining your culture. Culture committees are great tools for ensuring that you don’t allow the demands of the business to render the culture silent. Those, however, are not the same as ownership. Every person at every level is responsible for sustaining and promoting the culture. Anything less means that you are working on an initiative not changing your culture.
3.Don’t forget to think about your future. At some point, you will look back on today’s pace of change, disruption, and complexity as the “good old days.” Your culture of excellence must anticipate needs that you and your team may not fully recognize today. Most important, you must identify the gaps between the culture you have and the one that you need. Greg Besner and his team at CultureIQ have added identifying and evaluating strategic culture considerations to their work. For instance, most people nod in agreement when asked if employees should be empowered to make independent decisions. That’s not the case, however, if you operate in a highly regulated environment. Grappling with the contradictions, complexities, and implications of what your culture needs to be allows you to prepare for excellence tomorrow while continuing to thrive today.
Every company has a culture. The only question is whether your company’s culture will allow you to flourish in the future. The best way to ensure that is to move beyond creating an excellent culture to nurturing a culture of excellence.
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