Defining Corporate Culture–Why Is It Critical?

Guest post from Rick

You can’t just
take it for granted and assume that having a business plan in place is all it
takes in order to develop your leadership program. You also can’t take for
granted that having a leadership development program in place will enhance the
quality of the leaders within your organization.

You must also have a corporate culture that emulates your business plan. The
old cliché, “talk the talk and walk the walk,” is exactly what this means. If
your corporate culture does not emphasize how you go about executing your
business plan, you’re likely to have trouble achieving success. To begin with,
it starts at the top, and the CEO must embrace a corporate culture that
embraces the philosophy of building a learning organization. That is only the
start of building your corporate culture, but it is an essential one. Without
that piece, people won’t be held accountable for the learning and developing
that they should be doing.

On the other hand, when the expectation for continuous learning becomes part of
your corporate culture, learning is more likely to take place at the level you
need it to. Do you know if your strategic intent and your corporate culture are
in sync? If you are unsure of what your culture looks like and how to evaluate
your corporate culture, here are some questions to help you frame your

• Do we have a corporate culture that supports people?
• Do we allow people to fail?
• Do we encourage people to take chances?
• Do we give them the tools to learn?
• Do we hold them accountable for their development?

Corporate culture is a hard thing to measure and is subjective in nature as
everyone’s definition of culture varies. Your perception of your corporate
culture is seen through your paradigm, and that may not be reality. Don’t be
blinded by your own paradigm. Surveys can be an impactful way of taking the
pulse of an organization and allowing you to find out what is happening across
the broad spectrum of the company. An effective survey will help you get the
lay of the land before
you embark down the wrong path. Usually, your survey will be more accurate if
you use a third-party vendor rather than conducting it yourself internally. To
have the meaningful impact you seek, you should do the following
when planning your survey:

• Set the stage to help people understand why you are doing the survey and what
you hope to accomplish.

• Help your staff feel comfortable so they will be candid and not fear
retribution for saying something that might be offensive.

• Share the results with the respondents. If you don’t, they will not believe
it’s worth spending the time to take the survey and may not speak up in the

• Address and, at the very least, make the recommended changes that emerge from
the information or explain why something cannot be done. You cannot ignore
this. You must also let the entire organization see that you have listened and
acted upon the results of the survey.

• Conduct the exact same survey in twelve to fourteen months to determine if
the changes have taken hold and improvements were made. If you change the
survey and do not ask the same questions in the same way, you cannot compare
the results accurately and you will not be able to determine if your company
has made improvements. It is imperative that you be willing to conduct the
exact same survey a year after the first.

If you follow these principles, people will see you are fully committed to
making improvements. Keep in mind the following powerful statement, “People
support what they help create.” Listening and engaging your people will pay
dividends when you build an organization around employee engagement. While
following these principles is the right thing to do, it is important to
understand that doing all these things does not guarantee you success. As an example,
I was speaking to a president of a company about the employee feedback he tries
to receive at the end of every month. All of the feedback he was getting was
positive, yet there was a large increase in turnover from the previous year. To
address the issue of staff departures, he brought in a third party to conduct
employee interviews and found out that the reason people were leaving was
because they were frustrated with several members of the senior leadership
team. They told the president what he wanted to hear not what he needed to
hear. This is not an uncommon situation, which is why surveys are more
revealing when they are conducted by a third-party provider, especially if
there are difficult leaders in place.

Rick Tiemann is President of The Executive Group and works with companies in
the areas of organizational and business development. His expertise is on
developing organizational effectiveness through employee selection and
development with a targeted focus on sales and leadership.  His new book
is Developing World Class Leaders.