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Corporate Culture Is A Powerful Force

November 21, 2009

Nature abhors a vacuum. So does the electorate and so do your employees. Where ever a vacuum exists, something, and not always the best thing, will fill the void.

A Republican television commentator grabs 30% of the vote against a sitting President; a Democrat withdraws from the race and nearly wins an election three weeks later; a political unknown out polls the nominees of both established parties. Even “none of the above” approached the 30% threshold in early primaries around the country.

What’s the message? The electorate abhors a vacuum. People are dissatisfied with the past and concerned about the future, they’ll look elsewhere, anywhere to fill the void.

What’s the equivalent phenomenon in your business? When management fails to establish direction and set standards, something, anything is going to fill the void. When employees can’t talk to their bosses, they look to unions for support. When customers can’t get service, they look elsewhere. Every business has standards, if you don’t set them, someone else will.

The culture of a society at large consists of the acceptable ways of human interaction that are transmitted from one generation to the next. Every business, regardless of how big or small, establishes its own culture and its own internal value system. It is shaped by the behavior that gets rewarded and punished, who gets hired and fired, the reasons for praise or criticism.

When leaders don’t take a strong position in establishing “culture” in their own business, a vacuum is created and a culture will develop of its own accord. What will fill that vacuum is not always so pleasant to those in power.

“Cultures” are rarely reduced to writing and they will vary from business to business. They are communicated informally by words and deeds. Once established, a “corporate culture” is not easily altered. Managers need to understand that whatever they pay attention to, the rest of their employees will eventually pay attention to also.

If you want your employees to respect your business, you must respect it first. Too often management sees itself as exempt from the policies that it establishes. Special privileges are counter productive to establishing a healthy corporate culture.

Long term, clear, and consistent actions are the key to establishing a healthy culture within an organization. When conflicts exist between words and deeds, the resulting confusion will have a negative impact. A manager, concerned about productivity and employee morale, berates his supervisors for not taking better care of the employees. His words convey one message, his actions a far different one.

Don’t spend time on low impact matters. How you spend your time communicates a message to your employees. They’ll pay attention to what you pay attention to. What you pay attention to will take on an increased importance within your company. If certain standards are important to your business, make sure that’s unmistakably communicated to everyone.

If you want your company to be innovative, pay attention to innovation. Listen to new ideas, reward the innovators, and give encouragement to those who experience failure in the process of experimentation. Over time your “corporate culture” will encourage innovation.

Every organization will develop its own culture. In the final analysis, every business gets the culture it deserves. Don’t let a vacuum exist in any area that is important, you might not like what fills the void.

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