6 Tips for Using Your Organizational Culture to Drive Performance

Successful business leaders understand the importance of creating a high-performance culture within their organizations and the benefits that come with it. Many have taken the time to assess and articulate their organizations' shared values and to gain a deep understanding of how their attitudes and behaviors shape and impact their current organizational culture and position in the marketplace.

But when it comes to changing your workplace culture, this deep assessment is only the beginning of a much larger process. How do you get everyone onboard and actively engaged in the process of mapping out tangible next steps that drive action?

Here are six tips to consider before you begin to embark on your cultural evolution:

1. Understand your current culture. First and foremost, it's critical have a complete understanding of your current culture. Be able to fully answer these questions: In what ways does your current culture align/misalign with your company's values? What behaviors are your current systems and processes rewarding or de-incentivizing?

It's essential for your culture to align with the ideas, values, and behaviors of your organization's most important stakeholders: employees, vendors, shareholders, and customers.

2. Understand your position. Next, you need to have a strong grasp on your current and future market position. Although the internal culture of your company is ultimately what you want to change, it's important to consider what the market is going to demand of you. This understanding of your position leads to the development of a sound strategy aimed at ensuring that you succeed in the market.

With these elements in mind, you can determine how your changes will help you stay competitive in the market for a long time to come.

3. Start a dialogue. At this point, you're ready to have some meaningful discussions with the people in your organization about the first two steps. This will ultimately help your staff understand why the company needs a cultural change: Certain aspects of your current model will not help you succeed in the future.

This engagement and dialogue is absolutely critical because your whole company determines your culture, and if anything is going to change, they need to be actively involved. Everyone must fully understand what parts of the current culture are holding the company back, what needs to change, and how these changes will contribute to the company's long-term success.

4. Don't boil the ocean. Sometimes, we see an opportunity to improve and want to immediately tackle it head-on. That's not necessarily a bad thing, but it can be dangerous. Don't try to change your culture overnight; you'll bite off more than the members of your organization can chew.

The most successful companies I've worked with over the years are those that have been able to prioritize their change efforts and address only a handful at a time. Once they're satisfied with the results, they move on to tackling a few more. This iterative method of change ensures that the new behaviors will be successfully adopted by the organization over time, and it leads to more sustainable results as you build on them.

5. Align systems and processes. Once your organization has figured out the necessary cultural changes, it's time to be intentional about evolving your systems and processes and making sure they align with and reinforce those behaviors. These systems and processes include recruiting, on-boarding, compensation, performance management, and more. Your evolution isn't complete until your work structure also reflects the culture you're striving to build.

6. Be a role model. To show people that it's safe to behave in new ways, you need to be willing to lead by example and engage in those new behaviors yourself. Showcase these values to your team, reward members who exhibit them, and treat any day-to-day slip-ups as learning experiences, not punishable situations.

By being a role model and finding opportunities to reinforce needed behaviors, leaders are able to help their teams bridge the gap between the current culture and the way of the future.

While there's no silver bullet for changing company culture, it's far from an impossible feat to shape it in such a way that aligns behavior with your organizational strategy. With the proper planning, patience, and leadership, your organization can create a high-performing culture that positions itself for continued success, regardless of how the business environment shifts.

Chris Cancialosi, Ph.D., is managing partner and founder at gothamCulture. The team at gothamCulture focuses on identifying the underlying causes of organizational obstacles and assisting leaders in developing and executing breakthrough strategies to elevate performance. The team provides critical, thought-provoking insights to leaders who desire to use organizational culture and leadership as key drivers of performance.