Q: How can we grow and maintain our culture? We have a strong company culture. We are growing regionally. How do we grow and stay who we are?
A: Culture is sometimes referred to as the soul, character, or personality of the organization. It is a system of shared values, meaning, and behavioral norms or “the way we do things around here,” and as such it is a powerful force on your employees’ behavior. Most companies with strong, positive cultures work hard to identify, build and maintain their cultures.
Identify. It is vital to have crystal clarity about the core elements — values, meaning, and behavioral norms, because how they are lived out might look different in different situations and for different employees. You want to go for unity of purpose, but diversity of perspectives and styles in order to continue to reach a broad range of customers and enrich your internal environment.
Build. Some tools for culture-building are obvious, such as values statements and missions. But these never influence culture without a system of other elements such as: stories and myths that are repeated in the organization, metaphors used (think about the difference in feeling between the metaphor of an army at war vs. a family that takes good care of each other), who gets held up as the organizational “heroes” and why, ceremonies and rituals, rites of passage, the dress code, and how the building and spaces are allocated and laid out.
Maintain. Leaders and founders have a profound impact on culture, so you will continue to have a strong influence. Best practices used in companies with valuable cultures include spending more time and money on selection than other companies do, and hiring for culture fit not just skill sets. One more note of caution. Strong cultures can be a barrier to change, innovation, and diversity, so it’s a good idea to bake these in to your culture at the outset.
By: Teresa J. Rothausen, professor of management and the Susan E. Heckler Endowed Chair in Business Administration at the University of St. Thomas.
This article originally appeared in the Star Tribune on March 20, 2015. Used with kind permission from the Star Tribune.