This column is part of Globe Careers' Leadership Lab series, where executives and experts share their views and advice about leadership and management. Follow us at @Globe_Careers. Find all Leadership Lab stories at tgam.ca/leadershiplab
Much has been written about the relationship between organizational culture and positive business results. Financial growth, competitive superiority and improved employee performance can all be linked back to the collective ideas, beliefs and behaviour of an organization.
Think of organizational or corporate culture as a self-perpetuating force. If you can create a healthy and robust organizational culture that yields positive business results, it will continue to fuel itself. Employees who take pride in their organization's achievements are likely to internalize a culture of success and work to maintain it.
So how do you set the company wheels in motion when it comes to creating a self-sustaining culture of success? There are three essential elements that need to be considered: authentic leadership, the employment experience and a focus on innovation.
If building a culture of success seems like a tall task, it is. But rest assured that the time spent cultivating each of these areas independently all plays into the bigger picture. For example, if your leadership team does not have a vested interest in its employees, a positive employment experience is an unlikely outcome. Similarly, a negative employment experience does not set the foundation for innovation and idea generation within the organization. Let's examine each of these elements more closely.
Authentic leadership refers to leaders who are credible, accountable to their employees and who lead by example. Organizational culture is typically established at the top tiers of the organization by this group.
Your organization needs to decide early on what type of culture it wishes to create, and the values that go along with it, before your leadership team can enact positive change. Whether you are fostering an organization of collaboration, trust or transparency, you can outline specific behaviour beforehand that will serve to reinforce that culture. The benefits of authentic leadership will be felt once company leaders embody such behaviour and demonstrate it regularly.
Employees are quick to dismiss the credibility of leaders if their words are not aligned with their actions. In short, if you say you are going to do something, do it. Once credibility is lost, it is inherently more difficult to connect and communicate with employees. The tone that is set at the highest level of the organization has a spillover effect into the strength of the employment experience.
A strong employment experience
From the way your organization recruits employees, to internal strategies for talent retention, the employment experience encompasses every touch point throughout the employee life cycle. A strong employment experience takes into consideration both the intangibles and tangibles of the work environment, including everything from corporate philosophy to the physical work space itself.
The level of employee engagement within the organization is one of the best indicators of the strength of the employment experience. Employee engagement can take many forms, from company-hosted social activities and events, to the sharing of corporate strategies and business direction. Over all, employee engagement speaks to the amount of discretionary effort employees are willing to invest in the organization.
Employee surveys are a well-known engagement tactic as they solicit feedback directly from employees. Results are indicative of employees' level of care and their desire to be heard. They also represent a prime opportunity to further drive the employment experience, meaning that if you ask people for their opinions, you are obligated to act upon those results. It may not mean implementing every piece of feedback, but addressing and acknowledging its receipt shows a willingness to work together toward improvement, and also shows that you genuinely listened to their feedback.
Focus on innovation
Without new ideas and fresh perspectives, an organization can quickly stagnate. A culture that drives success is ultimately a culture that values innovation across all parts of the business. Innovation is not only about developing industry-leading products and solutions for customers, but encouraging the organization to become better, stronger and smarter in its internal operations.
Companies need to identify policies that are restrictive in nature and that impede the ability of employees to freely bring their ideas to the table. An important part of stimulating innovation is to undo the perception that failure is a bad thing. Creative thinking and problem solving are often the byproducts of our greatest mistakes. In teaching employees not to be afraid of failure, you are welcoming the kind of out-of-the box thinking that will move your organization forward.
A culture of success needs the buy-in of all employees. It requires steadfast commitment from leadership and consistency in the way values are communicated across the organization. If you are running into roadblocks, consider the alternative. Without the right culture, it becomes nearly impossible for leaders to lead, and for your organization to deliver on its business results.
Denise Hayes is chief human resources officer at Moneris (@Moneris), one of North America's largest processors of debit and credit card payments. Ms. Hayes leads talent management, leadership development and succession planning strategies, and influences the development of corporate values and ethics at Moneris.