Building a Resilient Business Culture

In today’s fast-paced business environment, creating and maintaining a resilient organizational culture is paramount. In a recent executive coaching session, we tackled a significant challenge: the client leads a business, owned by a larger corporation, that has a vibrant, agile, and positive culture, while the parent company suffers from antiquated leadership paradigms, bureaucracy, and a toxic culture. Our goal was to develop strategies to shield the smaller company from the larger company’s negativity and maintain its strong, positive culture of growth, respect, and support.

Here’s a condensed summary of the key takeaways from our discussion:

The Difference Between Stated Values and Organizational Culture

Stated Values are the principles and standards that an organization claims to uphold. These are often found in mission statements, official documents, or communicated by leadership. They are meant to guide behavior and decision-making within the organization and publicly declare what the organization stands for.

Organizational Culture, however, is the actual behaviors, assumptions, attitudes, collective beliefs, and practices that prevail within the organization. It represents the lived experience of employees and how things genuinely operate day-to-day. Culture is shaped by interactions, leadership styles, informal practices, and the collective habits of everyone in the organization.

The gap between stated values and organizational culture can be substantial. An organization might publicly commit to values such as integrity, innovation, or teamwork, but if the actual culture doesn’t reflect these values, problems arise:

1. Leadership Actions: 

If leaders do not embody the stated values in their behavior, it signals to employees that these values are truly important. For instance, if a company claims to value integrity but its leaders frequently engage in unethical behavior, the organizational culture will likely not prioritize integrity.

2. Policies and Practices:

The actual policies and practices within an organization must support the stated values. For example, a company might state that it values work-life balance, but if it regularly expects employees to work overtime without recognition or compensation, the real culture contradicts the stated value.

3. Employee Behavior:

The behaviors rewarded and recognized within an organization play a critical role in shaping culture. If employees are rewarded for cutting corners or achieving results at any cost, even though the stated values promote ethical behavior and quality, the culture will reflect the former. Remember – we get what we tolerate.

4. Communication and Feedback:

Open and honest communication is vital for aligning culture with stated values. If employees feel they cannot voice concerns or provide feedback without fear of retribution, it suggests a culture that does not truly value transparency and respect, regardless of what is stated.

5. Consistency Over Time:

Consistency between stated values and actual practices needs to be maintained over time. Discrepancies between what is said and what is done can erode trust and negatively impact the culture.

While stated values are essential for setting an aspirational direction, the real measure of an organization lies in its culture—how people actually behave, interact, and get things done. Bridging the gap between stated values and organizational culture requires intentional efforts from leadership to model desired behaviors, align policies with values, and create an environment where stated values can thrive.

My client quickly grasped these concepts and implemented several changes: leading by example, recognizing positive behavior with daily communication and feedback, and offering small tokens of appreciation for behavior beyond the norm. Within four weeks, there was a noticeable increase in positive behavior, fostering hope for full immunity to the neighboring toxicity.

In conclusion, all businesses have a culture, often reflecting leadership’s demeanor, communication, and actions. A strong, positive culture is a competitive advantage—employees stay longer and enjoy their work. Leaders must be deliberate in shaping a culture that benefits the business and its stakeholders in the long term. Success requires clarity, exemplary behavior, consistent communication, and congruent rewards.

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