By Matt Monge, Director of Education and Training, Fort Campbell Federal Credit Union
Corporate mission statements and core values lists are filled with buzzwords, aren’t they? I’ve said it time and again to various folks I know in the larger business world. You can keep your catchphrases, because until those ideas translate into the culture of an organization, they’re useless.The trap many teams and organizations fall into is mistaking their excitement about a certain catchphrase or concept for actual, cultural change or identity.
The question then becomes “How can executive teams and organizational development practitioners get things from being simply catchphrases to actually being defining elements of organizational culture?”
I’m so glad you asked. There are a few steps an organization can take to work toward a unified cultural vision, and then some ideas around what we within the training and development world can do to help drive that change.
Plant a Stake in the Ground
I can’t help but think of that scene from Far and Away where the various individuals and families strike out into the territory to stake their claim to a plot of land. There was a sense of urgency for them as they made their way as fast as they possibly could to the plot of land they wanted, and a sense of pride and accomplishment when they staked their claim.
Organizations need to do the same thing. Establish a clear and compelling vision for organizational culture. Answer questions such as: Who are we? What makes us tick? How are we different? Why is the world and marketplace better for our being here? How are we helping people? When you’ve answered these questions, plant that stake in the ground, and don’t waver from it. Organizations such as Zappos and Southwest Airlines have done this very well, and they stand out in today’s market because of it.
Rally the Troops
Employees need a compelling context within which to do their work. If they don’t have this context, they’ll quickly become bored, dissatisfied, even miserable. Once organizations have planted that stake in the ground, they need to communicate it to the rest of their teams. They need to rally their employees around the cultural vision, and help them connect their specific roles and contributions to that vision. Employees should know how their work contributes to the organization being able to answer some of those big questions discussed previously.
Reinforce the Position
Once the organizational culture has been defined or clarified, everything must be aligned with it. For example, if an organization touts “respect for people” as part of its cultural identity, what does that mean going forward?
If you ask most organizations if they respect their employees, almost across the board their answer will be in the affirmative. However, what they’re likely agreeing to is the ambiguous idea that respecting people is good. They can nod their collective heads to that sentiment without really understanding what that should look like within an organizational context. This is not an intentional oversight on their part; most organizations do want to treat their people well. It’s just that often, executive teams and organizations will affirm that respect for people is good, while at the same time not putting processes, policies, and human systems in place to solidify that idea within the organizational culture. If “respect for people” is truly to be something that defines our group or organization, then everything we do must be built around that concept. And if that respect is truly to be embraced by the organization and felt by the employees, everything must be structured with that idea in mind. Everything—from marketing to interview questions to benefits to atmosphere—must reinforce a given core value, which, in this case, would be “respect for people.” It takes a sustained, intentional effort for organizations to construct a culture where the core values are authentic and felt.
So what part does training and development play in all of this? Again, I’m so glad you asked. There are at least four steps we need to take:
A final word for those in the trenches seeking either to define or live out your organization’s culture, whether you’re an executive or an entry-level employee: Don’t give up. Defining culture and aligning an organization is difficult, but most great things are. Lead from wherever you are, and be the champion of culture your organization needs.
Matt Monge is the director of Education and Training at Fort Campbell Federal Credit Union, where his team creates and implements organizational culture and training initiatives for the credit union. He is also a consultant, writer, and presenter, and is earning his MA in Organizational Leadership at Gonzaga University. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.