Building a Culture with Intent

Your organizational culture is the glue that holds people together as they work towards achieving shared goals. It is the collection of shared values, underlying beliefs, assumptions, and expectations that drive team members' best practices and behaviors. Culture will emerge, even if you don't build one with deliberation. But waiting to see what develops is not a good strategy. A strong culture built with intent is the right strategy because it's developed with intentional goals in mind, like maintaining ethical behaviors, high performance, corporate social responsibility, and engaging leadership.

The shared values and beliefs of a culture shapes employee perspectives, drives behaviors in any given situation, provides context for decision-making and supports employee engagement. Its importance can't be overstated, so it only makes sense for business leaders to build a culture with the intent to create an intentional culture.  

The Good and Bad of Culture 

A positive culture can take many forms, but they all have common traits. These traits include a highly collaborative team focused on organizational goalspositive employee relations, employee respect for each other, and common values. Leaders know how to communicate well with employees and put the values in action, serving as role models for employees. People come first and are encouraged to bring their authentic selves to work. 

Organizational culture can also be toxic, unfortunately. A toxic culture refers to a culture in which people don't respect each other and are often in conflict, leaders behave unethically, and employees are unhappy. There's low morale and poor communication, and employees may actually fear management. It's made clear that policies come before people.

Building a culture with intent means developing a positive culture with high employee engagement. It is an intentional act with culture-building goals that are focused on developing good relationships between leaders and employees and between coworkers so that organizational success is achieved the right way.

Building a culture with intent means developing a positive #culture with high #employeeengagement. #positiveworkplace #positiveculture #workplacewellness

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Toxic cultures are usually not developed on purpose. They are often more the result of neglect. Leaders are not trained in developing positive employee relations, recognizing bias, giving employees autonomy, and effective communication. So they let problems fester until the culture becomes problematic at best and toxic at worst. A toxic culture is most likely to lead to results like unionization because employees turn to external support to find relief from the tension and to gain a voice in the hopes of improving the situation. 

Planning the Company Culture  

Building a positive company culture with intent means planning for the culture rather than letting it develop organically. It is a proactive management process in which your leaders consciously choose what they want to create within the context of the organization's vision, mission, and values.

Achievers' 2020 Employee Engagement & Retention Report surveyed thousands of employees across North America. The results concerning culture were eye-opening. 

  • A mere 23 percent of employees believed their senior leaders are "very committed" or have a "more than average" commitment to culture and the employee experience. 
  • Thirty-three percent of employees believed leadership is only "minimally committed" to culture and the employee experience. 
  • Twelve percent of employees believed leadership was "not at all committed" to culture and the employee experience. 

Following are the major steps in creating a positive culture with intent.  

culture with intent

Identify the Current Culture 

It's important to first assess the current culture – the good, the bad, and the ugly. This is difficult for some leaders because it requires being brutally honest about the current culture's desirable and undesirable traits. The assessment depends on executive-level support that includes changing behaviors at the top if needed. 

It may take leadership training at the highest level because culture change is challenging for everyone, even the CEO. However, the executive and senior leaders must become role models. In a negative culture, top leaders are often unapproachable and behave in ways that indicate employees are just cogs in a production wheel. So culture change with intent begins with intentional top leadership direction and positive behaviors.   

Compare Desired Values to the Values Currently Expressed

Your organization has values, but do your employees fully understand them? Often, a poor culture develops because employees lack direction and training in soft skills, like collaborative behaviors and interpersonal communication, and don't embrace the values due to lack of information. Learning is not part of the culture in these organizations. 

Employees may not understand the organization's direction and how their work contributes to meeting higher-level goals. Perhaps employees agree too much, indicating people fear expressing new perspectives, or they are unwilling to take any thoughtful risks which stymie innovation. There might be a lack of diversity or inclusion or teamwork.  

Some examples of company core values include: 

Pursue Strategic Direction for Culture Change

Developing a strategic plan to build a culture with intent requires setting SMARTER goals. You want to change the culture and understand what a positive culture should look like. Now is the time to ask what it will take to get there. What are the goals? 

It will take a complete review of the company's infrastructure and systems, followed by implementing necessary changes. 

  • Evaluate leadership training needs in areas like communication, employee engagement, positive employee relations, culture building within their areas of operation, diversity and inclusion, etc. Remember to include your frontline supervisors because they're your link between culture change goals and success in meeting them.   
  • Assess the need for employee training in soft skills such as interacting with coworkers productively and maintaining respectful communication, plus training in areas like utilizing the grievance procedure (instead of disrupting the work area), pursuing career development opportunities, reporting ethical violations, etc. 
  • Evaluate the communication system and how to keep employees informed and aware of the culture change and leadership expectations. How will you engage all employees, including the remote workers, field workers, and deskless workers? Will you use digital communications, websites, emails, videos, and other tools? 
  • Review the organizational structure to ensure it's not a barrier to employee engagement. For example, an organization's siloed functions discourage cross-functional interaction between the employees, limiting collaboration and innovation. In another example, employees are discouraged from sharing innovative ideas because there are two dozen approval layers. 
  • Assess the recognition and rewards system. Your employees need encouragement and visible signs of the culture in action. For example, if you want to develop a more collaborative culture, recognize and reward employees for participating in teams.  
  • Evaluate all HR policies to make sure they support the desired culture. For example, does your organization hire people who will support the desired culture? Are all employees included in career planning opportunities? Is there a Diversity and Inclusion Strategic Plan in the implementation stage? 
positive workplace culture

Implement Strategic Plan for Change

At this stage, your organization begins making the changes needed to help your leaders and employees function with new behaviors that support the organization's values. Developing a learning, collaborative and positive culture takes time.  

As your leaders become more proficient in skills like two-way feedback, giving employees recognition, active listening, and developing positive employee relations, your employees will follow the behaviors and direction of role models. Leadership training is the most important first step in implementing change. 

Measure Progress 

Every plan needs a system of measurement for accountability, including a plan for driving organizational culture change. You measure at the point of implementing the culture change plan and then measure progress. Culture change can be measured in various ways. 

Do your employees share the company values? Are they more motivated and engaged over time? Is the company more innovative? Are your leaders better communicators?  

Company Culture is THE Game 

The former CEO of IBM, Louis V. Gerstner, Jr., said, "Until I came to IBM, I probably would have told you that culture was just one among several important elements in any organization's makeup and success — along with vision, strategy, marketing, financials, and the like... I came to see, in my time at IBM, that culture isn't just one aspect of the game, it is the game. In the end, an organization is nothing more than the collective capacity of its people to create value." 

Your leaders are the people who actually build the culture with intent, making it a reality. They must make a full commitment to culture change and rigorously adhere to maintaining the company values through their words and actions. Leadership training is of the utmost importance because not only is change difficult, but it takes leadership persistence and continuity. There is always the danger of slipping back into old behaviors.  

Your leaders are the people who actually build the #culture with intent, making it a reality. They must make a commitment to culture change and adhere to maintaining company #values through their words and actions.

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Invest in Leadership Training to Create Value 

Invest in leadership training to build a culture with intent. Without the training, it's nearly impossible to drive culture change. Leaders must unlearn the old values, learn the new ones and develop new behaviors before they can even begin to influence employees.  

We are happy to provide invaluable leadership eLearning courses you need to initiate and maintain a culture change. Once your leaders are trained on culture change and positive employee relations, we also provide a multitude of employee training resources that accelerate the implementation of your strategic plan.

Chat with our team of experts, today to discuss a plan that will work for you and your team!

About the Author Jennifer Orechwa

In over 25 years of helping companies connect with their employees, Jennifer has gained a unique perspective on what it takes to build a culture of engagement. By blending a deep understanding of labor and employee relations with powerful digital marketing knowledge, Jennifer has helped thousands of companies achieve behavioral change at a cultural level.

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