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.

Building a Company of Rainmakers

When I first heard the term “Rainmaking” used as an euphemism for bringing business in the door I immediately thought of someone banging on a drum and dancing with the hope of producing rain. Just as I am skeptical of the success of a tribesman accomplishing this feat, so are many of our employers and coworkers as they wonder how the elite 5% of our companies are successful at bringing work in the door everyday. In order to truly build a company of rainmakers we have to breakdown this skepticism with knowledge, and then help others in our companies to truly embrace the rainmaking process.

Drums and Dancing don’t make a Rainmaker, but Networking does
As we discussed during my seminar on this topic at Build Business 2008, networking is the universal key to “making it rain” in business.  This is because everyone, even introverts, can be successful at building strong networks. The key to networking is selflessly and continuously helping other people. By focusing on helping other people we build mutually beneficial relationships where others want to help us in return. Over time these relationships develop into a strong network of people that are continually working to help us succeed. When we apply this process consistently, we find that our network is regularly providing us with leads and information that yield new work.  This is the process that turns someone into a Rainmaker.

Transforming Corporate Culture
Once we have demystified the art of networking we can then walk through the four steps of changing corporate culture: 1) Educating and Encouraging, 2) Defining Expectations, 3) Acknowledging and Celebrating Success, and finally, 4) Rewarding Success. As we follow this process we will find that building a corporate culture that embraces rainmaking is a choice rather than an accident.