Business Practices to Support your Desired Culture

Sustaining the right culture is dependent on people acting and behaving in a manner that supports the values of the organization. In a previous article we discussed the importance of having the right business systems and practices to support the desired culture. But it is just as important to have employees and leaders behaving in a way that builds a ‘way of being’ throughout the organization.

A definition of behavior could be “everything I say and everything I do.” For people you interact with, behavior is also everything you don’t say and don’t do. How we consistently behave throughout our work day creates the norms and beliefs of what is okay to do on a daily basis. Behavior, over time, establishes:

  • The level of quality of our work
  • How we work as a team
  • Whether deadlines are important
  • The level of inter- and cross-department relationships or collaboration
  • How much we feel we can trust leaders ….

With all of our clients, we advise that if they are going to publicly state what they value, then they should expect employees to look for evidence in support of those values through business practices and behaviors. If employees do not see behaviors aligning with the values of the organization, then all the work that went into developing those values will be meaningless.

One of our clients has been developing a ‘green field’ and has taken to heart their level of commitment to link their values to the behavior of employees and leaders. They have been operating for awhile and have consistently emphasized the company values, along with the leadership and employee behaviors necessary to establish a positive work culture. When interviewing for leaders and employees this organization now includes behavior-based questions that focus on the experiences prospective employees have had that demonstrate support for their values. In addition, after being hired, training sessions dedicated to building the right culture emphasize how people can demonstrate the desired behaviors in their daily work. Interview questions based on values is relatively common now, but conducting experiential training for everyone on the behaviors that help to support a desired culture is not very common. The values are usually covered as a brief part of orientation or on-boarding. This company I’m referencing spends between 1 to 2.5 full days, depending on the position, on values and behaviors.

To help us build experiential training, the General Manager established a list of specific behaviors for all employees that help support values. Leaders were given this list of behaviors and some additional ones for their leadership responsibility. The behavior list was different from competency models that often focus on the skills for specific jobs. The behaviors listed were ones that everyone needed to demonstrate regardless of the position in the company. The list was relatively short. Some of the key actions or behaviors were underlined. Here are some examples of behaviors for two of their four values:

Customer Focused


All Employees

  • On a daily basis my actions demonstrate that I am committed to doing the job right for our customers
  • I follow established processes to ensure consistency
  • I know and am focused on achieving our customer
  • Key Performance Indicators (KPI’s)
  • I talk positively about our customers
  • I look for ways to say ‘Yes’ to the customer (internal and external)
All Employees

  • I treat co-workers, the team, and company with respect
  • I commit to doing work safely, without compromise
  • I look for ways to help fellow employees
  • I communicate openly and honestly
  • I consistently choose a positive attitude
  • I consistently bring up concerns before they are allowed to build into bigger issues
Additional Behaviors for Leaders

  • I have confidence interacting and working with customers
  • I train people on my team to be competent to deliver quality results and meet customer Key Performance Indicators (KPI’s)
  • I bring customer needs, expectations and their ‘stories’ into daily interactions with the people I lead
Additional Behaviors for Leaders

  • I walk the floor and am both visible and interact with people on the production floor
  • I give and receive timely feedback
  • I encourage open discussions in all employee interactions
  • I thank people for what they do and their involvement
  • I regularly discuss safe work practices with people and stop all unsafe work
  • I encourage employee development

After five months of operating, the company decided to test whether people were living the desired culture. The General Manager asked everyone to do a self and supervisor rating on each of the behaviors related to values. After completing the survey, each of the 200 employees was asked to meet with their direct supervisor or manager to give their impressions of the emerging culture and whether the behaviors were being experienced. The General Manager is still waiting for the results. However, with the very positive atmosphere that has developed over the last five months, he doesn’t really expect any big surprises. Of course we know of other companies that haven’t enjoyed such a benefit straight out of the gate.

Everyone in this company knows the desired interaction with customers and co-workers. More importantly, everyone also knows how leaders are supposed to contribute to a positive work culture.

Most businesses are not in this company’s position because they already have established norms for the work environment. Even so, the process for establishing desired behaviors that meet the values of the organization is essentially the same. Essentially, the company needs to establish, regardless of position, what behaviors they expect throughout the workplace. There may or may not be additional behaviors expected of leaders.

The difference in working with an established work environment comes in the implementation. First, it is important to work with the leaders of the organization to give them an opportunity to work on meeting the desired behavior prior to introducing the behaviors to all employees. In addition, it is important for the leaders to gain some type of base-line understanding of what people experience through some form of customized survey on specific behaviors they expect to see demonstrated. After about three months of re-enforcing these behaviors, they conduct experiential training to ‘show’ how the behaviors are beneficial to everyone. At that point, a senior level manager or executive in the company usually announces another assessment in three months to determine whether further skills development training for particular leaders is necessary. This provides leaders an opportunity to take courses or work with a mentor/coach to help them acquire more of the desired skills.

Only after the leaders have been given the time to work on their own behavior is it appropriate to publicize the behaviors and values to everyone. If it is done too soon then there can be too much criticism of the leadership group which undermines the entire effort to change the culture. It goes back to the definition of behavior; if you don’t demonstrate the behavior you are asking for, then why would others believe it is important to you?

To change your culture leaders have to understand their role in the process. The following activities have to be discussed with leaders to help them get more of the desired behaviors within their team:

  • Increase the level of communication with the team
  • Focus discussions around ‘stories’ within the company about the values
  • Work on the recognition of particular behaviors within the values
  • Publicize the efforts of other teams and departments
  • Conduct an ‘upstream’ or ‘downstream’ process review to increase the interaction and inter-relation with other departments or teams
  • Set up 1:1 meetings with employees. Introduce quarterly discussions that are over and above your daily interactions with team members
  • Change the performance management program to include a review of the values and behaviors
  • Promote those who demonstrate the behaviors
  • Hold training sessions focused on the behaviors
  • Focus the key performance indicators, for departments and the business, on meeting the behaviors/values

Where there is a long history with a particular way of working, or an attitude of entitlement has developed within the work force, it is challenging to affect change. The established culture will quickly consume the change effort if leaders haven’t first understood that they are the agents of change and second, do not take the time to demonstrate this change to their people. With consistency and ongoing support, change will occur if the desired behaviors become important enough for the leaders to lead. Senior management must also become more involved in operations to help the frontline leaders support the desired change.

The next article will focus on Continuous Improvement Activities which is the last but the largest step to attaining your desired work culture.

Five part series on Culture Change:

  1. Steps to Culture Change
  2. What Impacts an Organization’s Culture?
  3. Behaviors to Support Your Desired Culture
  4. Business Practices to Support your Desired Culture
  5. Continuous Improvement Strategies to Build Your Desired Culture