The Foundation for a Fresh Start in 2021

2021 Calendar

As we look at the clean calendar page that is January 2021, we’re coming to terms with lessons learned from the dumpster fire of 2020.  Last year’s unprecedented change — the upheaval of work norms, an overdue focus on social justice, economic stresses, the travel shutdown, Covid-19 – spurred many “aha” moments.

Organizations saw everything from cracks in their cultures that required major systemic reviews, to remote working situations that stretched leaders and managers, not to mention the Black Lives Matter movement that amplified D&I issues across the world. Many patterns of behavior and long-term practices were identified as weak or broken, and companies realized that culture transformations were top of the priority list.

Countless businesses suffered severe negative impacts last year, unemployment soared, while some companies experienced years’ worth of growth in just a few months. But across industries, trust in leadership, how employees collaborate and communicate, behavioral expectations and beliefs, and corporate values were tested. In many cases, organizations discovered their cultures were not as well understood as they assumed. Leadership saw the need to get a much better grasp on their company’s culture and determine how to survive in this “new normal.” How do you begin to transform your corporate culture and values to create a stronger, more equitable, and engaged culture?

A culture assessment – taking an in-depth look at how individuals, teams, and leaders view behavioral norms and identify talent strengths and weaknesses, along with employee expectations, engagement, and communication — can provide a solid foundation for accomplishing the work ahead.

How do you begin to transform your corporate culture and values to create a stronger, more equitable, and engaged culture?

What is culture?

An organization’s culture is its collective behavior – the ways people interact, expectations for how they work, and understanding the norms, beliefs, and symbols shared by all colleagues. At many workplaces, culture is shorthand for “the way we’ve always done it.”  A year like 2020 showed many of us that long-held habits or ways of operating needed to be re-examined.

Culture is typically established by leaders, communicated to everyone, and reinforced through the actions of all employees. Successful companies strive to have a positive, supportive culture that engages and motivates employees to achieve the organization’s goals. An ineffective culture does just the opposite and can lead to high turnover, HR issues, productivity problems, poor customer relations, and slow or negative business results.

An ineffective culture does just the opposite and can lead to high turnover, HR issues, productivity problems, poor customer relations, and slow or negative business results.

Why assess culture?

Scrutinizing cultural norms raises relevant questions and enables an organization to set priorities for strategic planning. What collective behaviors do we want to keep, which ones do we adapt, and which ones are we ready to jettison all together?  How do we use the insights we’ve gained to increase our employee satisfaction and productivity by better supporting equity, inclusion, transparency, respect, and engagement?

A culture assessment – gathering feedback through surveys, focus groups, and one-on-one interviews – helps an organization define its assets and liabilities. With that knowledge, leadership can craft a new path forward, reinforcing the positive influences that have shaped their culture and identifying the collective behaviors that are thwarting greater success. The culture assessment can help all employees from leaders to individual contributors understand if how they define themselves as a company is truly who they are.

Getting to the root of it

As an example, one of our recent clients, a large technology organization, was deeply concerned and perplexed with its high turnover rate. Leadership felt they had made many wrong hiring decisions and could not understand why they were not attracting the high-impact employees they needed to ensure work was done effectively and efficiently.

Through the culture assessment, we uncovered several issues and cultural challenges:

  • Employees and managers were not comfortable speaking up, and issues that should have been brought to HR were not.
  • Leadership was not cascading information down, up, and across the organization frequently enough. Communication was not transparent, and the messaging was muddied.
  • Unclear roles and responsibilities made collaboration across functions harder.
  • Displays of toxic leadership meant behaviors that should never have happened became acceptable.
  • Without the company’s values being clearly understood and accepted, managers were not finding and hiring the best candidates.

The problems our client was experiencing were not unique – many companies face similar challenges but do not understand the root causes.

The outcome of the culture assessment is The Audit Report.  This report includes assets (what is working) and liabilities (what is getting in the way), survey data, quotes from the interviews, and our recommendations. The recommendations are based on the assets and liabilities, as well as themes identified in the culture assessment.

To address the issues we uncovered for this client, the focus was on (1) development of new managers (skills and competencies), and (2) alignment and partnership with Talent Acquisition.

How does management development help? Why is it important to create alignment and partnership with Talent Acquisition?

  • More effective managers teach their employees to be better collaborators with more trust and communication between teams.
  • Higher-level work gets done more efficiently.
  • Employees are motivated and excited to come to work.
  • Turnover is reduced, and those leaving are not meant to be there.
  • Employees are excited about building a career in an environment that provides growth opportunities, employee recognition, and leadership support.
  • New hires are recruited from employees’ networks as they tell their friends and colleagues the company is a great place to work.

Finding the right people

Our collaboration with the company is improving the culture for current employees and having a positive impact on recruiting. When companies invest in strengthening their culture, recruiting becomes easier. More potential employees will come to a company that is empowering its employees to do their best work, and employees become “recruiting ambassadors” for the organization.

To recruit effectively, people managers must be able to identify gaps on their teams, assess the skills, competencies and culture needed and share it with their recruiting partners. With needs more clearly defined and the ability to articulate a company’s values – also a result of culture work – recruiters can find candidates who share that mindset and bring the right people on board.

More effective recruiting means new employees are a better fit, adding value more quickly and feeling less likely to leave, reducing the company’s turnover rate.  Choosing the right employees in the first place will slash hiring costs, maximize employee productivity, remove the impact of bad hires, and won’t let good hires go out the door.

Next up?

This is just one example of what a culture assessment can help an organization accomplish. After their assessment, this company focused on defining values and managers’ learning and development. Work in these areas has a positive impact on everything from individual engagement to organizational reputation. Managers and employees learn how to apply their strengths to solving problems collaboratively as they arise.

Your organization’s assets and liabilities are probably shared with many others, but after an extraordinary year, what’s the best approach for your unique circumstances? How should your company define a strategy for 2021 that acts on the lessons learned over the last year?  It’s your move.



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