Understanding your company’s culture drives performance outcomes.

We all know that the right culture is source of competitive advantage. But so many of the leaders we work with often have blind spots about the beliefs and assumptions that influence peoples’ behavior and why they do the things they do. As a result, they, at best, only have a cursory understanding of the one thing that no competitor can replicate.

To get started with understanding your company’s culture, meet with people up and down your organization to talk about their perception of what’s important to you and your leadership team. These perceptions are formed based on what they have observed about where you make investments of time and resources and how you react to events that can significantly impact the business.

Once you identify peoples’ perceptions about what’s important, identify the beliefs they have about what it takes to be successful at your organization and accepted by their co-workers and the people they report to.

Employee perceptions about what’s important and what they believe it takes to be successful will drive behaviors.  Those behaviors will heavily influence your culture.

To illustrate, let’s look at the unedited comments from focus groups that we held with two companies.

Company A Company B
Perceptions about what’s important to leadership.
  • Keeping investors happy by aggressively growing sales
  • Doing everything possible to deliver on commitments made to customers
  • Keeping quality standards high
  • Achieving net operating profit goals
  • Results are valued over people
  • Economic performance and return on investment of time and resources
  • Standing behind the company’s products and services
  • Protecting the company’s reputation
  • Relationships and the well-being and security of the employees
Beliefs about what it takes to be successful.
  • Going above and beyond everyday
  • Thinking for yourself and being a problem solver
  • Being thick skinned – we are so results oriented we do not have time to listen and be concerned about the feelings of others
  • Being willing to sacrifice time with family and life outside of work.
  • Hard work, diverse skill sets and creating value for customers
  • Doing what you say you are going to do
  • Being friendly and courteous with each other
  • Pulling  together and working as a team.
Dominate behaviors within the organization
  • We invest in equipment and technology that makes us more efficient
  • Managers do not take the time to know people – there’s a lack of rapport.
  • We are too busy to train people – “it’s sink or swim.”
  • People try to fly under the radar and do not offer unsolicited opinions or push back on how things are done
  • We take pride in what we do – if a person doesn’t meet our standards in the field their peers will call them out.
  • Our workforce in the field works together and pitches in – there is a team-oriented mentality.
  • There is a sense of pride in delivering a quality product and working for a company that cares about people.
  • We place a high degree of trust that people will do the right thing.

At the time of the focus groups, Company A was growing at a steady pace but experiencing higher than industry average turnover, significant employee morale issues and a decline in gross profit margins.  Company B on the other hand, was growing profitability at a rate faster than their peers. Employee engagement was high, and turnover was below industry averages.

By understanding the beliefs and dominant behaviors that were driving decisions, each organization’s leadership developed valuable insight into their culture and key influencers of performance outcomes.