When it comes to establishing, changing or leveraging a company’s culture, most turn to the CEO and his or her team for direction. Although leadership may play a significant role, employee participation may be just as important. To illustrate, let me share a recent client experience where our research process revealed that leaders weren't the only drivers of organizational culture.
IBM Employment Branding's Culture Research Process
At IBM, we use a basic three-step process to evaluate an organization's culture. First, we review existing secondary data, including websites, surveys, exit data and any other external materials that give us insight into the organization.
Second, we talk to people by conducting one-on-one interviews with leaders focused on current culture and the strategy and vision and focus groups with people who are good at their job and who are picked by their manager as reflective of the culture.
Lastly, this information is synthesized and presented back to leaders with findings and recommendations.
Research Experience with a U.S. Manufacturing Company
We recently conducted cultural research for a U.S. manufacturing company in order to develop a new set of company values. The data revealed an overwhelming lack of trust in company leadership—largely attributed to its significant growth by acquisition in the last few years. Many employees were not familiar with who the company leaders were, let alone had a chance to meet or chat.
It was clear that giving direction to employees on how to do the jobs they have been doing for years was not well received. We anticipated that a new set of company cultural values disseminated by leadership would be met with one big giant eye-roll.
Knowing this, we put together a two-day workshop to gather employee input from a variety of different disciplines. We presented the research results, the company strategy and the process for developing cultural values. During the course of the workshop, emotions ran high at times, but overall people had fun and stayed engaged.
After the workshop, a new set of company values were presented to senior leadership from the employee participants. With a few minor tweaks, they were rolled out company-wide—sending a clear message to employees that leadership was listening and valued their input.
The new cultural values are now reflecting and guiding the way the company thinks and speaks. Additionally, employee engagement scores have increased across the board.
So, who are the drivers of company culture and values? Although they are often the result of boardroom conversations, including all those who leverage company values proves higher adoption and reflect the reality of the broader organization.