Corporate Character

“Corporate Character is the intellectual and moral qualities that distinguish one company from another.” If you were to look at a ‘best value’ bid in Arlington County, VA you would find the following evaluation criteria used to award contracts: “(the County considers) the character, integrity, reputation, judgment, experience, and efficiency of the bidder.” Did you catch that, your clients are interested in the character of your company, not just your fee. They want to know the quintessence of who you are, your reputation, and why you’re the best; they want to understand your Corporate Character.

Inside and Out
Your Corporate Character is made up of hundreds of things that can be separated into two categories: how you are viewed (external) and who you are (internal). The external attributes of your Corporate Character are easy to understand and easy to change, they include your brand, public relations, reputation, sales, and customer service. The internal attributes of your Corporate Character are much more complicated, they include your corporate culture, integrity, honesty, judgment, moral standard, and experience.

Wrapping Paper on a Bad Gift
The external attributes of your Corporate Character are easy to change, but like wrapping paper on a bad gift, they only cover the underlying problem temporarily. To truly change how your company is viewed in the marketplace you must start by changing the internal attributes of your Corporate Character.

Your Corporate Character
It is the inside out approach to changing Corporate Character that builds a company which your clients will want to work with, one that has the “character, integrity, reputation, judgment, experience, and efficiency” to be trusted.

Creating a Marketing Culture

creatingamarketingculture_coverThe following article by Tim Klabunde was published in the April edition of Marketer.

Building a corporate culture that embraces marketing can be one of the most effective ways to achieve your company’s growth objectives. Companies that are successful in developing a marketing culture reap the benefits of strong work capture collaboration, cross-selling among departments, and active participation in the marketing process. By contrast, firms that do not have this culture often find that marketing is compartmentalized among departments and are missing uniformity in their message in the local marketplace. The most effective way to succeed at changing a corporate culture towards that of marketing is to purposefully engage a cultural change process.

The Cultural Change Process

As simple as this philosophy sounds, the reality is that most firms are not successful at changing their corporate culture because they do not follow a structured process of cultural change. The result is that most corporate cultural changes do not happen by predetermined paths, but instead occur by accident.

It is important to remember that just as your culture was not built overnight, corporate culture doesn’t change overnight. It is not an easy process, but by looking at the thousands of firms that have gone before us we can identify a systematic process that yields successful cultural change. That systematic process can be broken down into four easy-to-understand steps that will allow you to take control of your cultural change. 

Step 1 – Educate and Encourage

Education and encouragement are the foundational step of any cultural change.  Without the knowledge of how to succeed in a new culture it will be impossible for employees to move towards that new culture.  In the case of changing corporate culture toward a culture that embraces marketing the first thing people need to know is how marketing works and how they can participate in the marketing program.  This often requires training in areas such as basic business marketing, networking, and business development. During and after training it is important to encourage employees to try out their newly acquired skills.  Through this process you will begin an ongoing process of training and raising up a company that embraces the new culture. 

Step 2 – Define Expectations

The second step in changing a corporate culture is defining expectations. Employees need to have a clear understanding of company expectations for them as individuals as well as collectively. Changing corporate culture depends on changing one person at a time. Because each person is unique and has different responsibilities, this also means that what is expected of individuals should vary.  For example, a project manager may be responsible to achieve specific business development goals whereas a receptionist may be responsible to learn people’s voices on the phone and address key clients by name.  Expectations should also be tailored to the strengths of individuals so that their contributions can be maximized.

Step 3 – Acknowledge & Celebrate Success

Acknowledging and celebrating success is the single most important step in changing corporate culture.  Firms often begin the process of change by bringing in outside training and defining new expectations, but the culture change never takes root.  The reason is that culture change depends on acknowledging success at the highest level. In the case of building a marketing culture this can be accomplished by the CEO taking the time to walk into individual’s offices just to say “thank you” to an employee for bringing work in the door.  That brief moment of acknowledgement will ensure that the individual knows what they did was important and appreciated, not just by their manager, but also by upper management. 

In addition to acknowledging success you should strive to celebrate success. Ways to celebrate success include popping a cork on a bottle of champagne when a new client signs up, or with bagels the next morning for the department with a note of thanks. The key differentiator between acknowledging success and celebrating success is that a senior individual should acknowledge the success, but celebration of success should be inclusive of others that were directly or indirectly a part of the success.

Step 4 – Reward Success

The final step in changing a corporate culture is rewarding success.  Title changes, bonuses, parking spaces, raises, and office locations linked to culture change successes ensure the longevity of your cultural change.  This final stage should only be implemented after the other three steps because it can backfire without the proper foundation. Rewarding success is important because it aligns the objectives of the cultural change with long-term rewards that then become evident to others throughout the company. The goal is to build the cultural shift based on people that are working to build a better company for themselves and others.   

Individuals Are Your Culture

It is important to measure your success in changing your corporate culture one person at a time. Your culture did not instantly become what it is today, and it will not instantly become what you want it to be.  The first two steps should include everyone in the company, although recognizing that not everyone will immediately embrace the new culture. Instead, focus your attention on individuals that begin to implement and show the successes of your cultural change. By doing this you will see a wave of optimism unfold as these individuals begin to build your new corporate culture.

Changing Complex Corporate Cultures

Complex corporate cultures are often the result of multiple sub-cultures that exist among distinct groups, divisions, and offices of one company. For a variety of reasons, organizations with complex corporate cultures often look to unify the organization by proactively addressing cultural differences. The task usually seams daunting, but with the correct approach it can be simple compared to the complexity of the organization.

Changing by accident
Individuals are the DNA of corporate culture. Over time our cultures are formed as people work and adapt a culture that helps them to achieve their individual and corporate objectives. Major changes to corporate sub-cultures can happen through generational differences, hiring ‘new blood’, and even through prolonged isolation. In each of these cases, as it is with most cultural changes, these changes usually happen by accident.

Individuals make up culture
The good news is that, because individuals are the foundation of corporate culture, these individuals are also the ones that can change the culture. To achieve success when changing corporate culture companies must focus on individuals, even in companies with thousands of employees. The key is to use the positive principles of behavior modification to begin adapting the culture at its source.

Don’t destroy existing cultures
This said, the goal in complex cultural change is to unify existing cultures rather than to replace them. A company that begins by identifying the goals of the cultural change can clearly identify the aspects of each sub-culture that need to adapt. This should also help identify the aspects of each sub-culture that should be embraced, providing groups, divisions, and offices with individuality.

Thank You SMPS CT!

It is truly a great group of people that make up the SMPS Connecticut chapter. I greatly enjoyed connecting with them this past Wednesday morning as I spoke on the topic of “Building a Culture of Rainmakers.” It seems that every time I meet new people at the regional SMPS chapters I am amazed at the caliber of people that make up this incredible organization.

SMPS CT, thank you to the numerous follow-up e-mails that I received after the meeting this past Wednesday, I was humbled by your kind words. Special thanks to Wayne Cobleigh of GZA GeoEnvironmental, Inc.who originally contacted me after my presentation at SMPS Build Business this year and who spearheaded the event. I hope to have the opportunity to speak with all of you again in the future.
Tim Klabunde

“Thank you so much for bringing “Building a Culture of Rainmakers” to Hartford, and thank you too to William H. Gordon Associates, Inc. for sharing you with us. It was a great program and you are an engaging presenter. The response has been wonderful. By generously sharing your valuable step-by-step approach, you are extending the value of the program and giving marketers a great tool for training within their own companies. I highly recommend that other SMPS’ invite you to present to their chapters.”
Geryl Rose
President, SMPS Connecticut Chapter

“I was so impressed with the clarity of your ideas that I had already gone to cofebuz and started downloading!  … You are an extraordinary person!  The myth of “networking is for extroverts” was the best.  …  your rules and tips were far better than some of the material I’ve read and seminars I’ve attended.  It is my job to coach my team into building relationships, and your material will be the basis of my new training program over the next month.”
Holly DeYoung
Tai Soo Kim Partners, Architects

“Thanks for the follow up and the assets Tim. We just had a Friday pizza/”Building a Culture of Rainmakers” lunch where I did my best impersonation of you with the aid of the presentation (I got it at cofebuz) for our staff of six. We’re a brand design consultancy in the Hartford area and your presentation was my first event with SMPS CT. I was taken with the folks at my table, the presentation and the SMPS board members. I felt quite welcome. Thanks for sharing your knowledge. I believe you’ve achieve your goal with me — you’ve helped…”
John Gibson
Bertz Design Group

“Your presentation was really great.  I am very excited to look through your links and materials and share with my colleagues.  Thanks so much!”
Vicki Pancoast
PinnacleOne an ARCADIS Company

Building a Culture of Rainmakers

I am excited to be heading to Hartford Connecticut today to speak at SMPS CT on the topic of “Building a Culture of Rainmakers“. As is my custom I have attached a copy of the power point presentation under the resources tab on this site.

Networking: The Universal Tool
The term “rainmaking” encompasses many aspects of work capture (as perfectly described in the book Rain Making by Ford Harding). These include speaking, writing, public relations, networking, and marketing.

When dealing with changing a corporate culture it is vital to focus on aspects of rainmaking that all of your employees can embrace. Networking is the universal tool that everyone in your company can leverage to bring work in the door. This does not negate other aspects of rainmaking, but rather it focuses the efforts of everyone on relationship development, the foundational key to a successful business.

Changing Corporate Culture: Reward Success

Step 4 – Reward Success

Probably the most widely debated component of the cultural change process is rewarding success. Simply put, the goal in step 4 is to make a direct correlation between the desired culture of the organization and rewards for being apart of that culture. In the example of building a company culture that embraces business development this could include attributing a portion of annual raises to meeting business development goals or having a bonus directly linked to those goals. The important thing to note is that the rewards must be linked to individual expectations (Step 2: Defining Expectations).

Not just money
Rewards do not always have to be monetary in nature, although I have found that bonuses and salary increases are the easiest for employers to implement and for employees to understand. Title changes, parking spaces, and office locations are all examples of non-monetary rewards that I have seen to be motivational.

Why reward success
Organizations usually have pioneers that forge ahead into the new culture rapidly after they understand where management is moving. The importance of rewards is to ensure that they, and everyone else, understand that there is personal benefit to adapting to the new culture. Without step 4 firms often begin the cultural change process but wonder why it is never fully embraced. The reason this happens is that, with time, pioneers will realize they are doing the extra effort but are not being compensated for that effort. By ensuring a clear understanding of this correlation you are ensuring the long-term success of your cultural change.

Culture Change Motivations
Managers often want to believe that cultural change which benefits the company will motivate their employees to active participation in the change. The reality is that, while this should be correct, human nature dictates that this is not usually the case. Through the study of behavior modification we can see that one of the most powerful ways to change behavior is to reward the specific desired behavior. This is reflected in step 4 by rewarding individuals that achieve success that aligns with the new corporate culture.

Four Steps to Changing Corporate Culture
Executive Summary
Step 1 – Educate and Encourage
Step 2 – Define Expectations
Step 3 – Acknowledge & Celebrate Success
Step 4 – Reward Success//
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Changing Corporate Culture: Acknowledge and Celebrate Success

Step 3 – Acknowledge & Celebrate Success

By the time you have arrived at step three in the cultural change process employees should have a solid understanding of the culture that you are moving towards (Step 1: Educate and Encourage) and you should have defined expectations of how they fit into the new culture (Step 2: Define Expectations). The purpose of step three is the long-term acceptance of the change by the staff, not management.

Why acknowledge & celebrate
After seeing many new business ideas come and go over the years, employees innately learn to “wait and see” if change is going to last before they embrace it. Think about the many companies that have unsuccessfully tried to embrace a matrix organizational structure only to revert back to a hierarchical structure. With time, employees learn that many business ideas are initiated and then fade away in short cycles, often over the course of just a few months or years. Because of this, employees often wait to adopt new practices wholeheartedly until they see that the initiative, and their personal investment in that initiative, will succeed. It is for this reason that employee’s must be reinforced through acknowledgement in order for employees to embrace cultural change.

What it looks like
In the example of building a culture that embraces business development, encouragement can be accomplished by the CEO and others in upper management taking the time to walk into individual’s offices just to say “thank you” for bringing work in the door.  This brief moment of acknowledgement will ensure that the individual knows what they did was important and appreciated by the highest levels of management.  In addition to acknowledging employee efforts you can celebrate success through popping a cork on a bottle of champagne when a new client signs up, or with bagels the next morning for the department with a note of thanks. The important thing is to ensure that individual efforts are noted and appreciated. Once these efforts are clearly established through this process it is time to move on to reward the success (Step 4).

Why companies never initiate this step
The primary reasons companies do not succeed in this stage is the large amount of effort that it takes to acknowledge and celebrate success. It is very easy to hire a consultant to provide education, and managers’ typically don’t mind defining new expectations for their staff, but managers must make a purposeful effort to acknowledge individual contributions. Unfortunately, this often goes undone, resulting in the failure of employees embracing cultural change.

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Changing Corporate Culture: Define Expectations

Step 2 – Define Expectations

Originally, John had felt good when he hired a consultant to educate his staff on the culture he was trying to create. During and after the training he had even been encouraging his staff when he saw that they were modeling what they had learned. The problem, however, was that only a handful of his staff really even cared about the new direction for the company. Most were busy doing their jobs just as they always had and didn’t think much about a ‘cultural change’.

Cultural change is more than a one-step process. In the all-to-common story above we can see how managers feel after they begin to implement a cultural change process. The reality, however, is that John has succeeded at the first step. What he sees happening in the office is commonplace and it is nothing less than an indication that he needs on move to step 2 in the cultural change process: Defining Expectations.

The Individual and the Culture
Defining expectations simply means identifying where people fit  and how they should act in the new culture. Note the emphasis on the individual at this step; changing corporate culture is dependent on changing one person at a time. This also means that what is expected of individuals may vary. In the case of changing corporate culture to embrace business development, a project manager may be responsible to achieve specific goals relating to meeting prospective clients while a receptionist may be responsible to learn people’s voices on the phone and address key clients by name.

Cultural Goals
The key to defining expectations is to develop clear and measurable goals for people in the organization. It should not be done in the context of threatening or coercion, but rather by clearly identifying what is expected.  The good news is that the “defining expectations” step is the easiest of the four steps. For decades managers have refined the process of establishing S.M.A.R.T. goals that help their staff succeed. This is simply an extension of the employee goal model that already exists in most companies.

The Most Important Steps
Many companies fail at changing corporate culture because they stop here. It is very easy to hire a consultant to provide education, and managers’ typically don’t mind defining new expectations for their staff. But culture is dependent on the long-term acceptance of the changes by staff, not by senior management. As a result, the most important steps of changing corporate culture are steps 3 and 4.

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Changing Corporate Culture: Educate and Encourage

Step 1 – Educate and Encourage

Educate

In order for someone to succeed in a new culture they must first understand the culture in question. If you were going to send someone from your company to China you would first give them training on how to conduct business in China’s culture. The same is true when asking someone to integrate into a new corporate culture. You must first educate your staff so they know what is expected in the new culture. By doing this you will give them the knowledge necessary to succeed.

Many firms unfortunately miss this critical first step. Often those in leadership positions see the desired cultural shift as “easy to understand” or “something that will just happen over time.” The reality is that your staff is the central key to your cultural change because they are your culture. Humans inately shy away from change that they do not understand. What is exciting to note, however, is that most humans are excited and easily willing to accept change that they see as beneficial. As a result it is important to educate your staff not just so they understand your terminology, but also so that they understand what you are working to achieve and how it will benefit them.

Encourage

Most people understand the reasons that education is a critical first step, but struggle to see why encouragement is such a key component. When my wife and I first started to teach our children the alphabet we encouraged them every time they got a letter correct. After they had learned five or so letters they started to realize that they were capable of learning the letters and eventually they became self motivated as they became excited about how the letters worked in the world around them.

The same holds true for adults. If you receive encouragement (positive reinforcement) along with education it is easier to understand when you are succeeding. The result is a shorter duration to obtaining the knowledge and the development of self motivation. Simply stated, we learn better when we receive positive reinforcement for our actions.

Most often the encouragement we are referring to takes the form of verbal praise when someone incorporates that which they have learned into their job. The important thing is to ensure that they understand what they are being praised (encouraged) for.

What it looks like

Take for example the objective of changing corporate culture toward a culture that embraces business development.  Under this example, the first thing people need to know is how they can be a part of bring work in the door.  This may require training in areas such as networking, understanding the marketing process, and business development. During and after training management should focus on encouraging employees that try out newly acquired skills by simply saying ‘good job…’ and calling out the specific action that was in line with the corporate culture shift.

 

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It’s Not ‘Just Business’

The phrase “It’s Just Business” has become an accepted way to dehumanize important decisions.  The reality is that, in our relatively small industry where relationships are everything, it is impossible to negate the importance of relationships when faced with difficult business decisions.  We cannot suddenly stop making important business decisions, but neither should we selectively disregard the importance of relationships when making those decisions.  To succeed in the long run we need to make people, not business, the primary focus of our decision-making process.

Making Sound Business Decisions
This past year our company celebrated its 30th anniversary with an open house to which we invited as many of our previous employees as we could track down.  We were surprised by what we found: most of our previous employees were still working locally; many were leaders of change affecting our business everyday; and dozens were now our clients. 

Looking at how these former employees have continued to impact our company has reinforced the importance of these long-term relationships.  Sound business decisions should consider not only immediate needs of the company, but also the company’s future, which is based largely on a culture of trusted relationships.  Business decisions made with the “It’s Just Business” philosophy embrace the faulty premise that the company is more important than people.  By making decisions that are best for people we strengthen our companies and build teams that believe in our decisions and leadership even after individual team members depart.

An Industry Built on Relationships
In his blog, Mark Buckshon, President of Construction News and Report Publishing, states that, “You will achieve the highest results if you think longer-term and in the context of giving.” His statement is especially true in our industry, which is a leader in recognizing the importance of relationships as the key to our successes and failures.  It is important to note this as we make business decisions, knowing that others in our company and industry will evaluate our motivations and, based on their observations, will develop trust in our leadership accordingly.

It’s Just People
Many companies have succeeded at making people the center of their decisions.  Some examples include: the company that tries to find new jobs for employees facing layoffs; the manager that mentors an underachiever instead of firing the employee; and the owner who respects seniority when promoting a young project manager over an experienced individual by changing a title or adapting team structure.  Undoubtedly, this people-centered approach to business decisions can be more difficult in the short-term, but most successes are built on long-term, not on short-term gains.

It’s Just Smart Business
Perhaps it is time to give up our “It’s Just Business” slogan and instead focus on the value of every relationship – current and past employees as well as clients.  Next time you are making an important decision think about the potential long-term benefits of maintaining strong relationships. 

This article, written by Tim Klabunde, was originally published in the August 2008 edition of Marketer, the leading marketing publication of the Architecture, Engineering, and Construction industry.