When the $12.2 billion merger between Starwood Hotels and Marriott International took place recently, Arne Sorenson, Marriott CEO, sent a letter to all 180,000 Starwood associates that centered on the cultural implications of the merger, not its business benefits.
“We treat people with transparency and respect, a landmark of our people-first culture,” wrote Sorenson, whose company has made 18 appearances in Fortune’s "100 Best Companies to Work For" lineup. “As we go through this process, you’ll experience both.”
Even with that type of respect from the leader of such a large company toward his employees, company culture hasn’t been a focus for very many businesses even today.
The Internet surfaced in the mid-90s, and it was a fad to many, advertised by young tech-savvy people who were clueless about running a business. In this day and age, however, where organizations are considering major technology initiatives such as digital transformation, cloud adoption, business process improvements and so on, no one can say the internet was anything but critical for business success.
Even simple things like an end-to-end process for sending a document with a digital signature via email takes minutes, but to send the physical copy of same through the mail requires scanning the numerous pages, printing, wet inking and then posting/couriering.
What the Internet did for business, so too can company culture do for business.
There are several ways in which senior executives deal with company culture: they resist it, express skepticism about it, open up to it, or embrace it.
Companies can use the following ten strategies to build and uphold corporate culture, regardless of their leaders’ behavior toward it:
Related Article: Turning the Ship Around: A Guide to Changing Workplace Culture
1. Keep the Conversation Clear
When “values” and “culture” are dealt by executives as mushy, team members should make it a priority to link them with business outcomes in a clear, distinctive and relevant way. A company’s decision-making process and behavior are mainly driven by its core principles, who in turn are powered by its stated values, and following them ensures consistency and predictability throughout the organization.
The prevalent attitudes and beliefs within a company shape its culture. When company culture is great, employees trust their leaders, take pride in their work, and honor their colleagues and the company strategy is served.
2. Build Personal Meaning
Engage with executives that show resistance to culture and inquire about their own personal experiences. Ask them about the best job they ever had, the best place they’ve ever worked; why was it so great.” If they start answering with “It was a team effort,” or “We brought results no matter what”, then you can complement them with “This is what culture is. And it can be intentionally cultivated throughout our company.”
3. Make the Business Case for Culture
Those who seek proof in data must know that in Fortune’s 100 Best Companies to Work For lineup there are companies who achieve almost 100 percent better performance in stock returns, in comparison with broader indices.
Places that are considered great to work have much lower voluntary turnover rates compared to their peers by as much as 65 percent, negating the chronic employee flight cost (lost productivity and knowledge, hiring, onboarding, educating, and so on).
That’s just the beginning, there is a strong business case for culture. You can launch it by finding particular performance indicators and initiatives in your own institution that will set off if greater trust ensues.
Related Article: What Do a Company’s Core Values Say About Its Culture?
4. Link to the Weak Points
My belief is that a lot of serious challenges in business are rooted in the lack of trust in the culture. The question to ask is: “How can more trust tackle our current problems?” Discussing your company’s weak points (difficult acquisitions, projects that take too long, high expenses, quality problems, bad cross-functional alignment, or poor execution of novel strategies) is a good method of getting the attention of top leaders.
5. Build Social Proof
A number of strategies that could support the case for culture are described by Dr. Robert Cialdini. “Social proof” is a particularly potent one. Using the example of a well-regarded company with an extraordinary, evident culture can show your leaders the outcome of committing themselves to a similar approach.
6. Make It a Personal Endeavor
Think about saying this to your CEO: “When discussing culture, I am really referring to the immense power you exhibit as a role model within the company.” Deferring to CEOs is normal, but they usually welcome a good challenge. It takes bravery to ask: “Is it possible for you and the rest of the leading team to demonstrate behaviors that resemble more to what you want to see?” You’ll encounter resistance, but keep trying.
7. Make the Personal Appeal
Speaking from the heart while looking someone straight in the eyes is really powerful. According to Seth Godin, an author on leadership, charisma is not a required leadership trait. It’s more likely to be acquired through leadership.
8. Paint an Inspiring Picture
When you are on a persuasion mission, you may find yourself to be overly careful with your promises, for self-protection reasons. Avoid that. Paint a strong picture. If you have confidence in the result, then state your vision without holding back.
9. Tell Stories
According to politician Tip O’Neill, all politics is local. Culture is no different. Discover and circulate real-life examples of what happens with strong, trusty, and strategically aligned culture. You can get even better results with stories stating the opposite how damaging low-trust cultures can be. Unproductivity and low morale reign in low-trust cultures, and these traits follow people to their homes. Senior leaders react better to stories.
10. Call Upon the Golden Rule
Senior executives are isolated in their daily work experience. They don’t get to experience any of the common setbacks stemming from a low-trust culture. Call on their empathy by asking, “What if you were a mid-level leader trying your best, but were too often obstructed by politics and other outcomes of a low-trust culture? What kind of help would you expect from your senior executives?”
Stand by your beliefs about culture. Progress is taking place, and someday a thing will happen, perhaps small, that will set off changes. Don’t hold back your wishes.