How To Build Organizational Culture

Recently, I was moderating a design thinking workshop and talking about how it is critical to foster a culture of innovation within the organization and that it is responsibility of the leaders to build & nurture this culture.

Some one stopped me and asked the following question:

” As a leader, what can i do to build the culture that i want for my team or organization”.

For a moment, i was lost for the right words. I then took a pause and collected my thoughts and responded such:

Building a culture is like gardening. Irrespective of what you do or dont do, something will grow. As a gardner,

  • its upto you to have a vision for how you want your garden to look like (full of flowers or vegetables for self-consumption, etc).
  • You then need to identify the right seeds or saplings to plant in the garden. You need to understand the right combination of plants to plant.
  • You then need to tend (water, sunlight, trim, fertilizers, etc) to them as they grow.
  • You need to remove the weed that grows in the garden. You need to protect the garden from insect attack or diseases.
  • If a particular plant doesn’t seem to take to the soil, you need to replace it quickly.
  • You need to build a habit of tending to the garden everyday.

As a leader, you are the gardener. The plants that you plant are your people and the garden is your organizational culture.

If I have to expand this analogy to an organizational setting, I think that culture is at the intersection of “People, Performance & Process”.

Culture as the intersection of People, Process & Performance.
Culture as the intersection of People, Process & Performance.

People:

As leader, you need to:

  • Ensure that cultural fit to be a critical aspect of your hiring process. This is similar to know what seeds/saplings you want to plant in your garden.
  • You need to continue to train and coach them well. This is like tending to the plants that you have planted.
  • You need to identify wrong hires (from a cultural fit perspective) and fire them quickly, but respectfully. This is like ridding your garden off weeds.
  • As Gary Veynurchuk says, he is the Chief HR officer for his company. You can listen to him share his thoughts on this topic here.

Performance:

As a leader, it is critical for leaders to

  • Consistently provide feedback to your people so that they can continue to improve.
  • Reward behaviors first rather than results. By rewarding for behaviors, you are setting expectations that it is critical to put in the effort irrespective of the results. Once everyone puts in the effort, results will automatically follow and will be consistent rather than being unpredictable.
  • Set clear expectations from their people. Identify lead indicators and create KPI’s around them. Monitor them consistently and course correct whenever necessary.
  • Remain consistent in your evaluation of the performance. This is a key aspect in building any culture.

Process:

As leaders, it is your responsibility to

  • Identify critical aspects of your business and create a process for these aspects which have zero tolerance. Use the 80/20 principle to set process only for the 20% of the activities that create the 80% of value for your business.
  • Think processes as organizational habits. You need to cultivate good habits and replace bad habits. Read “The Power of Habit” by Charles Duhigg to learn about creating and replacing habits.
  • Remember that no set process is also a process – using individual judgement. Trust the judgement of your people and they shall repay you for the rest of the 80% of processes. Do make it clear that you do expect them to use their best judgement.

I think the analogy of the gardener and the garden was well received by the participants in the workshop. What do you think? Is there any other analogy that could explain this better? Please share it with us.