Why build a culture?

Two years ago at Factora, we started a new building. The building of culture.

Of course, Factora already had a culture, just as your company does. But we made the decision to invest significant thought, time and money into formally articulating and shaping ours.

Why?

Before I answer that question, let me tell you a bit about how we got there.

A topic whose time has come

I’ve spent my career in human resources and the topic of company culture – how it is shaped, how it affects – has been my passion. I believe company culture has a wildly underestimated effect on human actions, project success, and company profitability.

Recently I’ve noticed that my interest is spreading. The topic is being discussed online, by thought leaders of all stripes. The formal building of culture is entering the curriculum of business schools, Harvard in particular.

Can we reverse that culture question?

One answer to the ‘why build culture?’ question may come from another one: what happens when you don’t?

At Factora, that was exactly the question our culture committee explored in a recent lunchtime workshop. We used the pyramid from Five Dysfunctions of a Team” [Patrick Lencioni] to jumpstart the discussion.

When you don’t actively build culture, it’s easy to end up with an inadequacy or absence of trust. This leads to fear of conflicts and on up the triangle to inattention to results, or to put it another way, low quality work.

Now let’s look at the upside

There are major benefits from actively building culture.

Culture is a framework that allows people to be their best. Particularly for young enthusiastic employees coming into your organization, a framework gives direction to energy.

  • Only so much information can be given by directions on how to do the job. Culture goes past the job description to help employees truly understand what the goals are.
  • It’s inefficient to manage each person on a day-to-day process. When we talk about values and culture we don’t define each behaviour – they become obvious once the value is understood. Culture is how people act, how they behave – what they actually do to achieve company goals.
  • A positive culture frees up initiative, allowing people to do as they see fit. To look for a solution rather than just following the guidelines, when the going gets tough and the answers aren’t easy.

At its highest level, culture fills in the gaps, the holes between role and responsibility, those empty places between the dots. The in-between decisions that cannot be defined by the mission or vision or strategic plan. Or as the former CEO of Southwest Airlines said so crisply: “Culture is what people do when no one is looking.”

Just a few indicators of a strong positive culture

How many of these do you see in your workplace?

  • A culture of trust.
  • A question focus – the goal is not to have the right answers but to ask great questions. Culture supports people in their growth and in finding out what those questions are.
  • Employees have a clear idea when they should take initiative and make a decision (and feel permitted to do so) and when it is best to call upon others.
  • Culture brings people together; it is shared. If people within teams or across teams are running into significant or unsolvable conflict, your culture is not aligned. Note: A shared, aligned culture easily draws new employees in. They want to be a contributing member, to be part of it.
  • People are inspired to succeed – they care – and are proud of their work, often passionate. Not by being pushed from outside, but by a pull from within.

Culture is concrete! It’s entwined with meeting your KPIs. Your cultural goal is to have your articulated values come alive through each person, every day. If even one leader isn’t in the fold, you have a problem that needs addressing.

Silos and separation

Company culture has not kept pace with the complexity of today’s workplace, of our equipment and tools, on the shop floor or in the office. In a recent Factora article in Industry Week, we discussed how people now need to be connected just as much as data does. Silo-style work just won’t cut it.

As just one example, note what happens in your organization when a critical employee goes on vacation or leaves the company. Do things fall apart? How well do you do at keeping up with the pace of platform change, when in every 2-3 software years a new version is launched? How often have you built solutions that no one can maintain?

If you have a culture of shared knowledge, all these challenges soften considerably.

Recently one of our senior employees retired, a man for whom I have a great deal of admiration. When Don left, he told me that our company was the first he’d ever worked with, over his entire career, where people were open to sharing knowledge with each other. That benefit alone is worth the work in building a shared culture.

In conclusion

Why build a culture? Because a strong positive culture brings out the best in every team member and every leader. To put it another way: your clients will thank you.

And just like the journey to world-class manufacturing, the road to building culture never ends, is full of turns, and is always yielding new insights.