Twenty years ago, I began a new position with a Fortune 500 company that I had worked with for a long time. For 10 years prior to this, I had been in operational positions and my new job title was Human Resource Specialist. My charge: visiting 40 retail locations in three states and assessing the needs and environment - now known as "culture" - in each store.
Observations of Culture
It was one of the best learning platforms of my career. In the two years I had the job, I learned the impact the store culture had on customers, employees and bottom-line results. Soon, I could walk into any store and - just by observing and listening - assess how customers were being treated, the morale of the employees and the overall culture of the store. Locations with a positive, results-oriented culture had greater sales results and high morale. In these stores, employees were motivated to provide great service, and customers were loyal.
What is culture and why is it important? Every organization, department or division has a culture, whether they purposefully define it or not. Culture is comprised of the values, behaviors and activities of an organization. On a broad perspective, the CEO shapes the culture by his/her actions, behaviors and the values expressed implicitly or explicitly to employees and customers. The culture impacts the way business is conducted, customer satisfaction and employee morale.
Get a Competitive Edge
Setting a positive, energizing culture can give a company a competitive edge. According to James Heskett and W. Earl Sasser in 10 Reasons to Design a Better Corporate Culture, "organizations with clearly deified and enforced cultures enjoy great employee and customer loyalty. When an organization consistently builds and reinforces such a culture, the competitive edge is hard to replicate."
In my experience culture, is the foundation. To assess your culture, assess what is important to your business, industry and customers. Ask yourself if your culture is one that keeps employees motivated and instills a sense of pride and ownership? Listen to what employees are saying. Are they complaining? Are they engaged? Do they have enthusiasm for achieving results? How are your customers responding? Are they returning or calling for continued service? Is your management team open and honest?
Every CEO or senior leader has an obligation to the organization to create a culture of success. As Edgar Schein, an organizational expert and professor at MIT once said, "If you do not manage culture, it manages you and you may not even be aware of the extent to which this is happening."