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Making Corporate Culture
Everyone's Business (Not Just HR)

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Hacking HR Team
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Posted on December 22, 2023

People's success and business success are two sides of the same coin. One happens with the other. One can't happen sustainably without the other.

That's why an organization is significantly more successful when it focuses on the intersection of people and culture with performance and strategy.

Delivering business value with higher performance is directly related to how much an organization and its leaders focus on people and culture. Those of us who work in the people space have known this for a long time, and it has been confirmed over and over with data showing the connection between financial returns and culture. Recent research by the McKinsey Global Institute showcases how focusing on people (culture) and performance (business) can be a powerful competitive advantage.

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When you have a great work culture,  everyone treats each other with kindness, compassion, and empathy. In fact, a few weeks ago, we did a poll on the Hacking HR LinkedIn page and found that an overwhelming majority of respondents think that how people treat each other at work is a strong indicator of how good (or not) culture is.

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If culture is how people get the work done and treat each other, should culture, then, be just an "HR thing"?

Culture is Everyone's Business

Corporate culture is not Blue Jean Friday, a cashew nut dispenser, free sparkling water, a foosball table, or other perks of the kind. If that's how people in your organization define "culture," they got it all wrong. Those are cheap perks that don't ignite people's passion.

Culture is how people get the work done, how they interact with one another and treat each other, their values, beliefs, norms and behaviors, and everything in between.

With that definition in mind, it's easy to acknowledge that the positive effects for people and businesses of a strong and good culture compound much faster to ignite people than adding more meaningless perks.

That's why corporate culture should never be an HR thing! Everyone must be involved!

Culture is designed, created, embodied, and celebrated by everyone at work: leaders, managers, and employees.

Creating a great culture is a collective effort.

In fact, we recently asked in another poll asking who is responsible for driving culture and a significant majority of respondents pointed to leaders (senior leaders and direct managers).

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The reason is simple: culture is the lifeblood of an organization. Things get done because of culture. And if leaders and managers want to get things done with higher performance and productivity, then they must focus on culture, not just "work."

This is the ultimate truth: More things get done better with a good culture; fewer things get done -and more inefficiently- with a bad culture.

Culture can never, ever be only an HR thing. It has to be everyone's business, beginning with top leaders to managers and from there down to everyone else.

Moreover, focusing on building a people-first organizational culture is not a distraction from achieving business goals and delivering better results.

In fact, it only becomes a "distraction" when company leaders think that people are a cost center rather than the creators of sustainable value.

A people-first culture can only emerge and thrive when business leaders genuinely believe that people and business success are intertwined and interdependent. And one needs the other, and one can't be without the other.

A strong people-first culture is also business-success-oriented. That's the secret sauce.

6 Goals of a Superb Corporate Culture

  • Redefining the meaning of work: Why do people "hate" their jobs? Because they feel that they are disposable tools treated as cogs in a corporate machinery that considers them only in terms of their time and labor in exchange for money. Work can't be that anymore because it won't work. Work has to be an avenue for people's progress, growth, and development. People want work that helps them thrive as individuals, too. Redefining work is finding ways to help people succeed, as well.

  • Delivering on the "why": People want to thrive and succeed at work, but they also want to know that their contributions ("time and labor" and more) help achieve and are conducive to a purpose that matters. They don't want to be cogs in a money-making machinery that only makes shareholders richer. They want to know that their work makes a positive difference in the world and other people's lives. Deliver on your organizational "why" and help people connect with it.

  • Building connections that matter: For a lot of people, their workplaces are the sources of their social connections. Their best friends are at work; some even meet their partners/spouses/significant others at work. "Loving Mondays" is not just about loving work; it's also about loving what happens at work. Workplaces are not families; they are communities. Make sure you are creating avenues for people to connect, essentially in an organic way, with others in the organization. Become a bridge!

  • Mastering the craft: The day the workplace becomes a place that elevates humans through learning opportunities to excel at one's craft, that's the day work won't feel like work anymore, but as an extension of what people would normally do, at or outside work. People want to get better at what they love and are passionate about and excel and master their craft. Everyone will love coming to work on Monday when they know that what they'll do helps them improve.

  • Receiving support and being challenged: Employees love knowing that their leaders and peers want to support them with the tools at their disposal. At the same time, employees want things to get increasingly more "difficult" so that they can learn and grow. They don't want to be overly stressed or bored. Receiving support and being professionally challenged are two powerful tools to keep people engaged and in a continuum of growth. This is a powerful incentive to love work.

  • Transforming work into an outlet of creativity: The workplace and work should be an outlet for people's creative potential. However, creativity and productivity (at least in the short term) are sometimes at odds with each other, and leaders are so focused on the latter that they miss the infinite value of the former. Research shows that most people are not living up to their creative potential at work. Find ways to build opportunities for people to express and voice their creativity at work.

8 Strategies to Make Corporate Culture Everyone's Business

  • Coach leaders to connect the dots: guide business leaders in how to connect the dots between the impact of culture on business performance and strategy. By connecting the dots, they will be able to create a stronger case (for themselves and others) that culture is the means to deliver results. Ensure they understand the impact of bad and good culture (which begins by defining what culture is).

  • Leverage data: bring data to the table and connect corporate culture data points with business performance and strategy. For example, proxy indicators of good culture include trust, employee engagement, and satisfaction, opportunities for development and growth, among others. Collect and connect these data points with turnover and performance to strengthen the case that teams that care for culture do better than those who don't.

  • Reinforce the power of role modeling: make sure business leaders and direct managers understand the power and the implications of both positive and negative role modeling. The culture they want to see their organization and people embrace begins with them. If they want to foster transparency but are shady in their decision-making, then transparency won't happen.

  • Decentralize culture initiatives: have a clear why from the top. Coach your business leaders to promote a strong and inspiring vision for the organization, including some pillars of corporate culture. Then, allow teams to create their own cultural initiatives or traditions that align with the broader company values. Doing so provides freedom, flexibility, and autonomy for each team to determine how their own unique identity aligns with the overall vision of culture for the organization.

  • Empower the middle: direct managers are in the final realization and embodiment of the corporate culture vision for the organization. They can literally make or break culture with their words, behaviors, and actions (or inactions). Direct managers are the bridge between top leadership and everyone else. Ensure that direct managers are equipped with the right tools to understand and advocate for a great culture. More importantly, make sure they are fully onboard with becoming champions of great culture in the organization.

  • Listen to employees: promote psychological safety and encourage employees to voice their perspectives on the culture of the organization. You can use anonymous platforms to gather candid insights or create safe and open spaces for honest and transparent conversations. By valuing and acting on this feedback, the organization underscores the collective responsibility everyone holds in shaping the culture.

  • Celebrate milestones: building a great culture is not rocket science, but it isn't a piece of cake either. In fact, turning culture an everyone's business can be hard and frustrating at times. That's why it's important to recognize and celebrate moments when teams or individuals exemplify the features of the great culture you are trying to build. In particular, it is essential to celebrate leaders and managers taking ownership of all corporate culture things. Celebrating these kinds of milestones fosters a sense of pride and motivation, signaling that the organization truly values its cultural pillars and those who uphold them.

  • Iterate and Adapt: culture isn't static. Yesterday's culture may not be right for today's challenges, and today's culture may not adapt to tomorrow's demands. Culture evolves with time, challenges, and achievements. It doesn't mean that all things culture have to change every year, but that it is necessary to regularly review and recalibrate your cultural strategies in response to changes within and outside the organization. Encourage leaders to see culture not as a fixed objective but as an ongoing journey. Stay open to feedback, be ready to make course corrections, and, most importantly, communicate these shifts effectively. Emphasize that as the business world changes, so must the culture – ensuring it remains relevant, resonant, and supportive of both the company's mission and its people.

Hacking HR

We are powering the future of HR! Hacking HR is a global community of people leaders and professionals interested in all things at the intersection of people, organizations, innovation, transformation, workplace and workforce, and more. We deliver value through hundreds of events a year, community engagement opportunities, learning programs, and more. Join our community platform, the Hacking HR LAB. Click here.

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