The corporate culture pyramid has four sides:
1. Employees: What employees believe about the culture.
2. Leaders: What the leadership team believes about the culture.
3. Corporate: What the company claims about the culture.
4. External: What external stakeholders believe about the culture.
It used to be that particularly strong sides 2 and 3 could mask realities in 1 and 4. No longer. Social media now exposes employee and external perceptions such that they are far stronger and more important than leadership and corporate statements. Therefore, you must ensure all sides align, or, just like a pyramid, your organization will be structurally unsound.
Employee Perspectives on the Culture
Your employees comprise your cultural realities. Yet, what your employees believe may be completely different from the perspectives of leadership and corporate communications. Consider that you may not be exposed to cultural realities on the front line.
To strengthen this side, consider querying your employees for how they would describe the culture. Simple tools like surveymonkey.com can be very effective.
Leader Perspectives on the Culture
As a leader in your organization, you must have a clear view on the realities of the culture. In his book, the Art of Servant Leadership, Tony Baron explains that the cultural architect should be the person with highest level of authority. This means practicing what you preach.
To strengthen this side, check yourself and fellow leadership team members. Ask trusted advisers, mentors and others to provide you and the team feedback – especially in larger meetings. Did you represent the values in your corporate culture?
Corporate Perspectives on the Culture
Every company website describes a great culture. However, is it accurate? While you may not want to publish publicly that, “our culture isn’t the greatest, but we’re working on it”, you do want to consider if it is removed from reality. If your HR department boasts an incredible culture, while executives bicker, run each other over and foster a general resentment, you make it worse by boasting falsehoods. By proclaiming one thing and permitting another, you harbor beliefs that corporate communications can not be trusted.
To strengthen this side, ask a broad employee base to evaluate these publications. What does the corporate PR, HR and similar material say? Do employees agree?
External Perspectives on the Culture
Analysts, investors, sponsors and consumers may have different perspectives on the culture of your organization. Nowadays, these perspectives are largely fed by what employees and consumers say online.
To strengthen this side, listen online. Advanced tools like Radian 6 and other social monitoring suites can provide sentiment analysis.
The further each side separates from your desired culture, the weaker your cultural pyramid becomes. It’s up to you, with the support of your teams, to ensure this pyramid is healthy and strong. By following the suggestions above you, can most effectively assess and realign your pyramid where necessary.
Question: How else can leaders help ensure their culture is appropriate and strong?
For years I was perplexed by discussions about culture. Everyone seems to define corporate culture as something different. I finally heard someone more experienced explain culture as the way a company communicates, makes decisions and what its traditions are.
Given that, a strong culture is one where everyone agrees to abide by corporate traditions on communication and decision making. Enforcing norms becomes essential to ensuring a strong culture.
Great points, Charles. For me, I think it’s key to recognize that culture is rarely a formally defined policy or procedure you can agree to though. There is definitely something inherent and unwritten about culture.