Tap Into Your Culture Champions

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Like many words, “culture” means different things to different people.  Some define it narrowly and others define it broadly.  This is especially true of corporate culture.  Leaders discuss it frequently and everyone has their own spin on what it is and what it should be.  And most corporate leaders have an image of what they think their own company culture encompasses.  But often, the image in the mind of the person in charge not only doesn’t reflect the definition of the culture as described by employees, that stark difference may surprise them.

If the discussion of culture is kept within C-Level suites or in writer’s rooms, there is a risk of creating an echo chamber where a true understanding of a company’s culture and what needs to be done to adjust or change it simply stays at that level.  And in the era of social media and hyper-awareness of brand reputation, that insular thought process can negatively impact business. 

Corporate culture can develop in two very different ways, either by simply allowing it to develop on its own, or through “consideration and conscious intent”.  The first path is hard to change on the backend, as culture that sets itself is often contradictory, negative or in opposition to many desired company values.  But while difficult at the start, developing and nurturing culture through intent and consideration will pay off long term and is healthier to maintain.

It’s a Bird, It’s a Plane…

We’ve all seen superhero movies where someone begins to recognize superpowers and perform feats that no one else can.  And as they discover and hone those powers they become something mythic and something that embodies the strong values that every superhero has that others want to emulate. 

For companies looking to develop a strong and positive culture, many leaders may not realize the superpower they have at their fingertips.  By tapping into their employees’ skills and strengths to build corporate culture, companies can rely on the best and most respected advocates for developing a strong culture that can carry over into many different areas. 

A company’s own employees are its best avenue in developing culture superpowers for several reasons:

·      Employees are already intricately familiar with the product or service.

·      Employees have both breadth and depth of experience to draw on.

·      Employees provide scalable advocacy with an authoritative voice since they are living the culture.

Making Your “Secret Identity” Known

So how does a company tap into these superpowers to bring them out from the shadows of their secret identity and into the light where they can be used for good?  There are several steps that corporate leaders can take that can help create better corporate culture and turn employees into culture champions.

1.     Identify and encourage those who express interest in organizing events and groups:  By utilizing those who show a knack for organizing events, the message and the content isn’t perceived as only coming from management or Human Resources.  That “bottom up” input, along with positive feedback and guidance from leadership will help bridge any gaps.  Those organizing the events will share with others the fact that they were not only allowed to organize the event but were openly encouraged to do so.

2.     Redefine job elements to include those organizing and sponsoring events:  Traditionally, this kind of activity is not recognized as part of a job description.  It has always been considered an intangible, unmeasured “voluntary” action by an employee.  But those employees who are engaged and working with leadership are building the elements of culture envisioned by that leadership, recognition within the frame and context of a job description can encourage them to continue doing so and encourage others to start.  This can even be formalized as part of the performance review process to signal that building culture is an important part of the company’s vision.

3.     Training Squared: In addition to recognizing and formalizing culture building, companies can train employees on how to advocate.  This is an excellent way to communicate the vision and it reinforces the culture-building concept to allow a path for defined values and direction to be imparted to employees.  As these champions work and conduct themselves in the workplace with other staff members, that guidance serves as a second-tier training for those not yet on board and creates an avenue for them to contribute as well as training begets training.

4.     Encourage and define social media presence:  Not too many years ago, companies considered social media statements by employees as fraught with risk.  But as the importance of social media has grown, it can be just the opposite when properly managed and deployed.  As an advocate and someone with deep knowledge of the company, employees taking to social media are like Superman exposing the giant “S” on his chest as he prepares to take flight.  Companies can create a positive social media policy that encourages engagement and lets them know that they have permission to post.

Identifying Attributes

Unfortunately, not all employees are internal self-starters on culture development.  The key is finding those who are and enlisting their help in development so that others will follow.  But in every organization, those who are most ready to engage and help develop the culture they will work in have several identifiable attributes.  These culture champions often share traits such as:

·      They are trusted among peers

·      They act with integrity

·      They instill confidence among their peers

·      They follow through and do what they say

·      They are not afraid of change

·      They inspire others to follow or join

Leading the Way

Once a company has realized their superpower, they have a responsibility to use them and use them well.  And true leadership means living the culture you want to create.  Build a strong team with a strong culture and the entire enterprise benefits.  It is important to note that culture within a company can account for as much as 40% of the difference between low performing and high performing teams.

To build the strongest foundation possible for using employees as culture champions, leaders should take responsibility for driving a great culture and in communicating the vision of that culture in ways that will spark participation. 

  • Leading by Example – Since employees live the culture every day, they need to know – and see – that the leadership is doing it as well.  Leadership that lives the culture will encourage and reinforce to employees that it is OK for them to do so as well.

  • Embrace Feedback – Many companies have nominal feedback mechanisms that may live at the HR level or in some other formalized format.  But having a mechanism for feedback and truly embracing it and using it to allow employees to champion that culture autonomously requires deeper commitment.  This may mean involving more people in decision-making as well as both formal and informal discussions among staff.  But the key is to use the feedback for business and culture needs so that employees understand that the mechanisms are real and valuable and result in action.

  • Celebrate Wins – Celebrating wins is an excellent way to build positive culture.  These can be individual wins for service or accomplishment.  But they can also be departmental wins, or business milestones.  Celebrating helps employees feel that they are part of the entire culture and not just a cog in a machine.

Allowing a culture to develop on its own is easy but can present its challenges.  Building a healthy, positive corporate culture takes hard work but will pay large dividends in retention, inclusion and productivity.  Turning your employees into culture champions solidifies your company culture and allows you to scale your culture with resources already in-house and familiar with company and product.  It gives them a common language that can be repeated through social media and word of mouth to reinforce your brand.  And it also democratizes access to that culture to create an environment where positive culture-building and sustainability become organic as those who are passionate about culture will become the ones who drive it from within.

Five to Nine brings your most passionate employees, your Culture Champions, to the forefront of culture-building. Request a demo today.