Recently, as I was working to develop and articulate the Organizational Culture (OC) Equation, my research led me to several well know authors and institutes famous for their “intellectual horsepower” and strategic research. The problem was, after reviewing their work, I decided it was so “intellectual” no one could actually understand what needed to be done to implement their recommendations in a “real” organization. So, I assembled a few trusted colleagues who have personally worked in, and were responsible for creating and reinforcing, some of the best organizational cultures in the world to help identify what it takes to create a positive culture that drives business results and what it takes to sustain that culture through leadership changes and turnover.

Do you speak Harvard?

Fortunately for all of us, even if you don’t speak Harvard (and I don’t), creating a positive, empowering organizational culture that improves your organization’s bottom line doesn’t require you to. Simply put, the components of culture (good or bad, intentional or unintentional) are:

Values + Philosophies x Actions = OC

If you’re still on the fence as to whether organizational culture is important, consider the following facts:

  • Gallup EngagementOnly 30% of American Employees are Engaged – According to Gallup’s State of the American Workplace: 2013 report, only 30% of American workers and 13% of global employees are engaged, or involved in, enthusiastic about, and committed to their workplace.
  • It’s better to be fair than right – Neuroscientists have discovered that when employees feel mistreated, those emotions run deep and are not easily forgotten. So, cultures that emphasize treating employees with respect and dignity reinforce employee needs and build loyalty and engagement.
  • Social Interaction drives results – Whether you’re an introvert or an extrovert, our brains are predominately social organs and need social interaction and goals to perform at its peak. However, most OCs focus on optimizing results over people (social interactions) resulting in employees (even top performers), feeling devalued, insecure or even unfairly treated which may lead to disengagement.

The bottom line is this, it’s not rocket science to create an empowering OC that drives results. It’s incredibly simple, but not simplistic. It takes discipline, constant vigilance and sometimes short term financial losses.

Case in point: In 2004 top leaders in a multinational organization presented their local leadership with a plan to save the plant millions of dollars over a 5 year period, which was incredibly attractive. The plan would outsource maintenance and facilities to a provider guaranteeing improved response time, improved machine uptime and improved MRO cost savings. In addition, the organization negotiated with the provider to hire the current maintenance team so there would be no learning curve and no one would be be out of work – they would leave one organization on Friday and report to work on Monday as an employee of the new provider.

When this plan was presented to Human Resources, they hit a snag, and no it wasn’t because of HR, it was because of their commitment to their culture. HR reminded the leaders that they would have to abide by the severance policy and offer every maintenance employee severance adding hundreds of thousands of dollars to the cost. Incredulous that their cost savings would be virtually wiped out in the near term, the leaders took their argument to the CEO, sure he would support the business decision. When they approached the CEO, he listened intently to their proposal and reviewed in detail their cost saving projections, impressed with the potential financial impact. When presented with the dilemma, the CEO asked one question, “On Monday morning will the affected employees work for our company or wear someone else’s’ logo?” The answer was clear, they would work for someone else. In less than a nanosecond, the CEO stated, “if you move forward with this plan, these employees are entitled to severance. It’s not whether they have a new job on Monday or not, it’s the fact that they will no longer be employed by us.”

A Positive Culture Intact 

Feeling defeated, the team left his office, but the culture remained intact and employee loyalty and engagement was never stronger because the employees knew the organization not only posted values on the wall – they lived them!

What values is your organization living? It is helping or hurting your results? You don’t have to speak “Harvard” to create and maintain a positive culture that engages employees, but it has to be intentional.