HOW TO BUILD GREAT COMPANY CULTURE

At the last LadyDrinks 15-woman dinner, some expressed they are struggling with building company culture. To rise to that request, we interview Leena Patel, Founder of Sandbox2Boardroom.com, on our next LadyDrinks virtual workshop.

Leena Patel is also the author of the book Raise Your Innovation IQ: 21 Ways to Think Differently During Times of Change. For two decades, she has helped executive teams around the world lead change, drive innovation, and develop a winning culture of creativity, collaboration, and inclusion.

Who is this webinar for:

  • Anyone leading a non profit and building a culture
  • Anyone in a corporate and building a team and its culture
  • Anyone with a startup and looking to build the company values and culture

We asked Leena a few questions ahead of the workshop to find out the current challenges in building company culture.

Joya: How important is distinct corporate culture to business success?

Leena: Most executives know, in theory, that it is important, but very few make it a high priority until a scandal or high turnover forces them to. That’s when they move into damage control mode. Prioritizing corporate culture quickly moves from ’nice to have’ to ‘urgent.’

Joya: How important is it to define what you want your company culture and values to look like?

Leena: Very. If you do it right, it is going to define every decision you (and your team of employees) make as long as you are in business.

Joya: What are the three core questions you need to ask yourself in order to execute on that?

Leena: Culture and values are different and people often get them confused. Values guide decision-making. They tell a potential employee or customer what is important to that company. They are typically non-negotiable and won’t change over time. If they do, the changes are rare. Culture is the working practices, processes, and interactions that make up the work environment. Your culture will evolve based on how your company adapts and scales.

I like to ask three questions that address three key areas business owners need to focus on to grow a successful business in a way that is aligned and authentic to them: revenue growth, personal passions, and differentiation.

  • What do you care deeply about? (passion)
  • What values or behaviors will most help your company grow in revenue? (revenue)
  • What habits when implemented would separate you from the competition? (differentiation)

These questions will start to guide you in how to define your values and culture.

Joya: Company culture starts with hire #1. If the culture is already forming, how do you shift it?

Leena: The first step is to assess how current stakeholders feel about the current culture. What do they like? What’s not working? Where is there room for improvement? We do in-depth stakeholder interviews and run focus groups to gather this data for mid-large companies and then present it to the executive team with our recommendations. Based on the information gathered, we can then put together a strategy on how to shift it. Smaller companies may find it more efficient to gather the data themselves internally. Either way, you have to know what you are starting with before you decide what you are shifting to.

Joya: How important is it to cultivate Board culture?

Leena: A board serves three functions: 1) to counterbalance any short-term quarterly earnings pressure that the CEO faces by providing a long term perspective 2) to provide insights based on their diverse backgrounds and experiences, and 3) to support, guide and challenge leadership when necessary.

It is important that the Board fully understands the company culture. But the Board can’t be so bought into it that they are not afraid to address the elephant in the room. Volkswagen is an example that comes to mind. The culture in place led to the 2015 emissions scandal. It was one of fear. Clearly, there is no value in the Board being afraid to speak up and call the CEO out when they are off track. As a CEO, it is your responsibility to select board members and develop a board culture that lobbies to do the right thing versus the easy thing. As a board member, it is his/her responsibility to speak up. I believe the company values are more important in directing decisions here than a specific board culture.

Joya: Is hiring an HR person the same as hiring a real ‘people person?’

Leena: A HR person’s role encompasses everything from workforce planning and compensation to policy formation and training and development so it’s not all people skills – administrative skills are required too. I will say this: I believe that seeing people as Human Resources instead of human beings is what is getting a lot of organization into trouble today. We need to treat people as people, with ideas, and feelings, and needs. Organizations will be better for ensuring they hire HR talent that are committed to maintaining the “human” in Human Resources.

Joya: What is ‘talent brand?’

Leena: I like TalentBrand.Org’s definition. They define it as “the honest story of life as an employee inside your organization, as told by the employees in parallel with the company.” Employees can be your greatest ambassadors and marketers if you create an environment where they feel heard and valued, and they love being a part of. If you do a great job, they will continue to sing your praises long after they stop working with you. If you don’t, they will complain to everyone and tarnish your brand.

I am a VIP contributor for a women’s career site where women in the workplace openly or anonymously share information on salary, corporate culture, work flexibility, and benefits. Women excel at building community and relationships and in just the first year of business, the site collected over 19K reviews on over 7K employers…and it’s been growing ever since. Your company story will be amplified as more and more of these kinds of communities sprout and people are more and more vocal about how you are treating them.

Joya: How do you consistently reinforce your core values?

Leena: In my firm, we ask each team member to score themselves on a weekly basis on how they think they are showing up with each value and where they need to step it up or where they would like additional support. We don’t expect everyone to be a 10 in every area but each team members commits to doing their best to abide by them and grow into the ones that challenge them. When a new person joins the team, we have them sign an accountability agreement which outlines the commitments they have made by deciding to join us. The agreement is based on our core values. An example of this: one of our core values is Celebrate The Individual. It was important to us that we do this in our own firm if we are to inspire creativity and innovation both internally and for others. So a part of our written agreement that everyone commits to is ‘Communicate and work with other team members in accordance with their Kolbe M.O.’ Kolbe M.O. is a person’s default way of operating on a day to day basis. Running Kolbe on a candidate is a great way of finding out how that person is going to work under pressure and how they align with your own natural tendencies. It is part of our hiring process and ensures we are hiring ‘right fit’ candidates. We are conscious about communicating with each other based on their M.O. because we know how much people get depleted and struggle in their roles when they are out of alignment with their natural tendencies. Having this commitment in writing invites each person to prioritize celebrating the individual and the unique talents they have to bring to the table instead of imposing our own. This process has worked really well for us at Sandbox2Boardroom and we’ve trained many of our clients who want to learn the art of effective team building on this process too.

Joya: How do you measure if your culture is effectively attracting and engaging talent?

Leena: One way you know you are doing something right is when your employees are recommending people in their network as potential great fits within your organization of their own free will. Track those numbers and get feedback on why people are or aren’t willing to make these recommendations. It will help you to know what’s working and where there is room for improvement.

To track engagement levels, surveys and focus groups are incredibly effective in finding out what motivates employees. My recommendation is to use an outside firm rather than conduct this internally because no employee is going to be honest if they think their boss is going to be reading their feedback responses and their job might be on the line as a result. Our firm offers this service for mid-large organizations, and while to some it seems like an unnecessary expense, having a neutral party gather the data means that you will actually get accurate feedback on what is working and what is not. Without this data, the only metric you are able to measure is when people leave – and by then it is too late and the cost of finding new talent and getting them up to speed is double what you were paying the previous person in salary.

And P.S. let’s hope that former employee hasn’t jumped on those online message boards and complained about how you never gave them a voice to express their ideas or discontent. It can be a downward spiral that is tough to recover from. My advice: address it before it gets that serious whenever possible.

Learn more by joining this important webinar Thursday October 10th. RSVP here.

What you get out of the webinar

  • 20 minutes establishing trends in the market, and how companies are innovating.
  • 40 minutes where each attendee shares a situation specific to them and gets one on one coaching.
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