In support of this issue’s focus on sustainment, Tim Kuppler, co-founder of CultureUniversity.com and Director of Culture and Organization Development with Human Synergistics, shares with us his thoughts on how culture and sustainment are interwoven. He also provides 10 tips that can help organizations achieve sustainable culture change and achieve greater business results via constructive behavior.
“Culture” was the Merriam-Webster Word of the Year for 2014, but it remains an elusive topic. Culture is a hot subject for good reason since it impacts every major strategy or plan and is the key to delivering sustainable results (profitability, growth, customer experience, employee satisfaction, etc.).
The good news is that the interest in workplace culture is growing fast after 15 years where many organizations focused on the highly visible measure of employee engagement. This focus on engagement did yield results for some organizations. Unfortunately, Gallup’s Employee Engagement Study has shown the number of employees engaged at work has bounced up and down from 26% to 31.5% over the course of the last 15 years.
We’re now flooded with information about how to build the culture of our dreams, yet Strategy& has found 96% of people still feel culture change is needed in their organization. Culture has been avoided by some due to perceptions about it being a very deep, complex, and even soft topic. Others oversimplify the topic with a focus on disconnected tips and keys. It’s time to get clear about not only the behaviors that distinguish effective organizations, but also the roadmap to building a constructive culture with a sustainable impact on results.
The number one culture change fundamental is that results or consequences are necessary for any new cultural attribute to take hold. When positive results are attributed to a change in behavior, it increases the chance that those behaviors will be sustained and spread within the organization. In fact, research* on thousands of organizations has shown a positive relationship between constructive cultural norms (that is, an expectation for members to behave constructively in order to “fit in”) and financial performance, quality, external adaptability, teamwork, motivation, and reduced stress.
These constructive “norms” include*:
These expectations may sound good, but the reality is that the expectations that prevail in most organizations support aggressive and passive behaviors. Unfortunately, the current expectations in organizations are very powerful, and our behavior is driven by these often unspoken cultural rules. Leaders need a roadmap to directly connect their efforts to developing constructive cultures and improving results.
Leaders should engage their organizations in the process, covering the following steps as part of their strategies and improvement plans:
A visual version of the culture roadmap is below:
These 10 steps are far from providing the entire picture of what’s involved with sustainable culture change, but they will help deliver business results with constructive behavior. The entire organization learns from the process and will apply what works to other performance priorities and expected behaviors.
These improvement phases or cycles are an iterative approach to change that’s far more effective when it comes to culture change than most broad-based change efforts. They are also easier to “sell” to members of organizations at all levels because they are focused on sustainable results AND constructive culture development.
*The research and constructive norm definitions are from Human Synergistics.
Tim Kuppler is the co-founder of CultureUniversity.com and the Director of Culture and Organization Development with Human Synergistics, a 40-plus-year pioneer in the field of workplace culture and leadership. CultureUniversity.com is a 100% educational site with a purpose of positively impacting society on a global scale through culture awareness, education, and action. He was previously an industry executive and President of Denison Consulting. He is also the author of Build the Culture Advantage, Deliver Sustainable Performance with Clarity and Speed.