Culture Club

Written by Aldo Maragoni on April 23, 2019

It might be defined; it might not. Either case, it’s still there—your company’s culture. More than foosball tables, vending machines and flex schedules, organizational culture hits to the personality of a company. It defines the environment in which employees work, including—but going beyond—company mission, values, ethics, expectations and goals.

When talking about corporate culture, it likely won’t take long before the oft-asked question arises: Who’s responsible for setting—or in some cases, changing—the culture? Some say it’s top-down; others think it’s bottom-up. In the end, it’s both those extremes and everyone in between. There are ways individuals—regardless of position, title or role—can positively influence a company’s culture. And not only can, but I would go so far as to say should influence a company’s culture, because in the end, either you define your culture or your culture defines you.

This all sounds easy, I know. And I also know when it comes to influencing company culture and process, there’s often resistance (read: “But that’s how we’ve always done it”). Still, by following some simple steps, you can soon find yourself being an influencer.

BIRD’S-EYE VIEW

If you’re going to influence your company’s culture, you need to understand what it is currently, where the company is going and get a sense of how various people and departments work together—or areas where they need to work together.

WHERE ARE YOU?

It might be tempting to start big and make a splash—or attempt to. But before jumping into the deep end, swim in your own area/department and set the culture tone there, because that’s where you’ll likely have the most initial influence. From there, you can establish advocates and allies and work outward to the rest of the organization.

MAKE THE CONNECTION

There’s a lot going on each day and it’s easy to keep your head down and plug away at the to-do list. Don’t. Take the time to learn about the people and other departments elsewhere in the organization, which can lead to conversations about how your respective department can work together, sharing ideas about your organization’s culture and taking steps toward improving the whole organization.

FIGHT THE RIGHT BATTLES

We all things our way, but when it comes to influencing organizational culture, there’s a bit of servant leadership that needs to happen: we need to step back and think not from the perspective of what’s best for ourselves or what we would like best, but what’s best for the organization. Selfish or disingenuous motives can be spotted fairly quickly and won’t go far in establishing allies or credibility.

STEP OUT OF YOUR COMFORT ZONE

By nature, I play by the rules, so this lesson is always a challenge for me. But if you’re going to be tackling something like corporate culture, then by definition you’ll be changing things and there may be an element of the unknown or not having all the answers.

SMALL VICTORIES

Culture change can seem like an endless mountain climb or a task too large to succeed. And it might seem like a, “Are we there yet?” feeling. Which is why it’s important to set and celebrate small wins, whether it’s something like the CEO meeting with staff over bagels once a week or, as we do at our organization, a monthly newsletter from IT, or whatever it is you set for your company. These small wins indicate progress, build momentum and show the seriousness of the initiative—as well as alleviate some concerns people might have that this undertaking will dramatically change their jobs or the way they do things.

PATIENCE

If you’re trying to influence your culture, you likely want to see results immediately. We’re just that way and it can be easy to get discouraged. But culture change is a long game and it takes time to influence processes and change people’s thinking and actions.

Aldo will be spoke in the “Troublemakers! Influencing a Culture that Drives Success” session during SURGE Co-Creation, an interactive virtual conference hosted by AssociationSuccess.org on May 1st-3rd. Click here to watch the session on-demand.