Strong Culture and Values: Required, Not Optional
This article was originally published in: HR Professionals Magazine
Culture and values have been around for years. Leaders and scholars have debated their importance and spent millions of dollars carefully crafting definitions and statements. Cultures and values have been seen as a fad with investments in posters and placards. But the truth is, they have never been more important in today’s world.
Command and Control is Dead
Did you know, our workplaces used to be modeled after the military? During a time when we did not have voluntary armed forces. Countless people in the military did not want to be there, and the assignments were not glamorous. In that context, a command and control approach was needed. However, we are now at a time when our workplaces and our workforce is uniquely different.
Clock speed is the speed at which a microprocessor performs commands. We have spent years increasing the clock speed of our devices. However, we now use the same types of approaches to our productivity efforts as a whole. We have to launch products faster than ever. We must shorten research cycles and testing for new drugs. Respond more quickly, or even in real time, to our customers. What took years is now taking months. What took months now takes days. What took days now takes hours. And what took hours now takes seconds. Because we have shortened cycles in our business, we also take on more at any given time. The rate of change we encounter and the sheer amount has just exploded.
As companies continue to grow, the structure of the past must disappear. Hierarchies be damned. Command and control dropped. Otherwise, we slow our businesses down, create bottlenecks and lose out to competition. Employees must embrace change through an entrepreneurial spirit. Entrepreneurship is a mindset, not a position. Employees with an entrepreneurial spirit want to learn, experiment, and partner and those adaptable people embrace change as an opportunity for growth. Innovative and creative thinking generate leads and create opportunities. More and more companies can thrive in today’s market because their culture encourages enthusiasm, vision, and problem-solving skills that are essential to entrepreneurial success.
A new generation has been entering the workforce. A digitally savvy generation that has a desire to make a difference. They grew up with platforms that allowed them to express themselves, make choices and even create customized products. Millennials and Generation Z know they have many work options and have vast networks they can recruit in seconds to influence people, companies and more. A command and control approach will not work with this new generation of employees. They do not like bureaucracy and need to be included along the way. Like most generations, taking orders is not their thing. However, this generation will pack up their things and leave if they are not treated as a valued colleague.
On top of that, while a multigenerational workforce has excellent potential, there are differences in values, communication styles and work habits vary among generations. Various perspectives are incredibly valuable to any company when it works. One of the best ways to leverage those differences is to appreciate the diversity and find the commonalities. An environment of shared values and distinct culture fosters collaboration and a partnership within the organization.
We are now working in companies that look more like international cities. I have sat around conference tables that look like the United Nations. A diverse workforce has the power to strengthen a company and connect it to its customers. When handled poorly, a diverse workforce can also create conflict, harassment claims and more. When you grow up in rural Indiana and work with people from Bombay, Chizhou, Lora del Río and Melbourne, the opportunity for miscommunication and conflict is massive. Each person’s life experience brings different traditions and norms. When a company adopts shared values and culture, it helps everyone find common ground quickly. It serves as the glue that holds everything and everyone together. Diversity and inclusion should not be limited to how employees are treated and perceived based on compliance issues, but rather permeate the internal and external culture within the company allowing it to become diverse, inclusive and global.
Span of Control
A span of control refers to the number of people someone manages. As we try to flatten our organizations to make them less formal and more nimble, the span of control in organizations has grown. A larger span of control also creates cost savings. The only problem is managers can no longer manage effectively. It often feels overwhelming especially for those that cannot let go. Managers suffer themselves and destroy morale and productivity when they need to control things, provide structure, and micro-manage. They also serve as a bottleneck. Managers must become coaches and leaders. These leaders must strategize to make sure employees can work independently with less supervision. Creating shared values and culture provides that compass for employees. Employees can use the values and culture to guide their behavior and decisions. Guidance along with an aligned strategy or company direction is the platform for flatter more dispersed organizations.
One of the main reasons we can flatten our organizations has to do with technology. Most technology available today is collaborative and mimics networks rather than hierarchies. Many organizations struggle with this change. Companies put in arbitrary rules for access, limited usage, and try to control who gets to collaborate. Organizations that adopt the new way of work take down barriers. They even allow collaboration with people outside of their organization. After all, good ideas come from everywhere. These changes make personal connections even more important and influential. These technological and relationship networks give advantages to companies in terms of recruiting, innovations, efficiencies and more, but it has also wreaked havoc on the command and control structure. The only way to lead in the era of networks instead of ladders is to rely on shared values and norms.
#METOO. Anti-bullying. Casual dress or even no dress code at all. Flex time. No assigned office space. Work from home when you want policies. Norms. Rules. What norms? Corporate standards are changing and in some cases, dying. I know sales people that either strategically set appointments up by dress code or travel with multiple outfits so they can fit in when they arrive at a client’s place of business. A clearly defined culture and a set of shared values transcend the challenges of changing norms and encompasses the most important norms a company can have. If correctly built and maintained, a strong culture and shared values are lived and not just espoused. For employees, they understand why they were hired, why certain people are promoted and more. For customers, they know what they are buying beyond just a product or service. For the community at large, these organizational tools share your organizations’ value beyond providing jobs. A strong culture and a set of shared values become part of your brand.
Shared values and a strong culture are no longer a fad. No longer optional. The most essential component for a successful company is to have a culture based on a shared set of beliefs that support the business strategy and structure. When companies have a strong culture and values, employees can navigate effectively in a diverse, global, multigenerational workforce, become an agent for change, and tap into their leadership opportunities by living the organization’s values and culture authentically. For organizations, a strong culture and shared values are the tools that not only build success but adapt to today’s very unique workplace. All of the trends and forces at work have buried the command and control structure. Don’t let your managers try and bring it back from the grave; otherwise, they will bury your organizations along with it.