Recognise This! – Give all employees the tools and systems needed to reinforce your desired culture every day for everyone.

Your company leadership makes a commitment to build a strong culture. They understand how powerful of a differentiator culture can be in the market. They know what kind of positive culture they want to instill and they take steps to make it happen. Yet over time, the culture changes into something else. What happened?

Over on the Fistful of Talent blog, Suzanne Ramsey tells a parable that ends this way:

“So, now we’re at the point in the story where the company is at a crossroads. To those who have been around a while, there is a feeling of the founding culture being unappreciated and not cared for by new employees coming in. To those newly joining, there is a feeling of having been slightly duped; that the descriptions of cool culture and being a different kind of firm, etc., shared during the recruiting process aren’t really true. Both groups are frustrated, and sad, and the early founders are befuddled. Their principles and priorities for the company, for differentiating itself through its awesome culture, have not changed. So what has?”

Read her story and it’s clear what happened – while there was every intention of sustaining and building the culture over time, there was no process to make it happen. Suzanne ends her post with these two recommendations (quoting on both points):

  1. It is time to stop assuming that the desired culture will sustain itself as the company grows, and time to make sustaining the culture a key responsibility of ALL within the company. Identify and develop the skills (storytelling, interpersonal relationship building), programmes, and actions necessary to do so. And hold everyone in the company explicitly accountable for doing so through their behaviours.
  2. And it is time for the company to get laser focussed on how it onboards and welcomes new employees into the fold, from leaders right on down to the most junior of hires. It is not fair to put the entire burden of acclimating to the new organisation, a new job, a new culture, on a newly joining employee, no matter how senior. And it is not fair to have the entire burden rest on the company, either. New employee onboarding needs an overhaul.

While I agree with these two points, Suzanne has missed a key third step – the sustaining process for making sure your culture is not just understood but actively lived by every employee in their daily work. Yes, we must onboard new employees properly into the culture, and we must all own the responsibility of sustaining that culture – as leaders we must also give everyone the tools and methodology to do so daily.

So, what is the process? Strategic, social recognition focussed on recognising and rewarding employees when they live the culture. That is, when they demonstrate your key cultural attributes (your core values) in their daily work. And since this is the responsibility of all employees,  then all employees must be empowered to recognise each other when they see someone living the values or embodying desired cultural attributes.

How is your culture proactively encouraged and sustained in your organisation?