How To Create a Successful Company Culture

According to Mike Gaffney many businesses underperform because of a negative company culture, rather than aggressive market forces or macro conditions. It’s often the lack of recognition of underlying bad habits and leadership behaviours that cause stagnation in the business. But business owners can take solace in the fact that there is a way to address the negative habits that are holding your company back.

Mike, just how damaging can a negative company culture be to a business?
In working with companies throughout Ireland, it’s becoming evident that we totally underestimate the effect of bad habits and norms in the business. You may send your people on a management development programme, and embark on a strategic review of the business, but unless we take a detached perspective, and take a serious look at how we think and act within the business, then all the commitment to logical changes won’t take hold; those underlying bad habits must be addressed

What drives these habits?
This behaviour is natural, the human brain is programmed to develop habits, like driving a car; the first time it’s awkward and clunky. After a while it becomes a subconscious behaviour, that’s how the brain works. So if you’re going to make serious changes in your business and maximize new opportunities, you need to recognise the subconscious habits and often limiting behaviours that are holding the organisation back. Without recognising and addressing them you won’t achieve the changes that are necessary to transform the business.

What should business owners do to change negative habitual behaviour?
It was Einstein who said ‘we cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.’ The big issue here is the lack of recognition of underlying negative habits and behaviours of business owners and management. Making statements to staff such as ‘we need to change’ isn’t good enough. And you can map out a new strategy for the business, but that won’t work either if you don’t address people’s negative behaviours. A fundamental change in behaviour must occur for any real progress to be made. Highly successful businesses recognise that they need three things.

1. a clear vision for where they want the business to get to
2. a mission statement as to why they exist now
3. a clear set of values that underpin the organisation’s culture & behaviour

If they can get their people to buy into those three areas, then they can address those old negative habits and develop new positive ones, and a new mind-set for the organisation.

Does that mean confronting staff who are not aligned with the company core values?
Before business owners can implement change they have to let people know what they want the company to change into. Clarity is required – clear vision, clear mission, clear values – so that people know what’s expected and are given a chance to adapt. Unless people have clarity in terms of what’s expected of them then people won’t change, and that clarity must come from the business owner. If there are certain values that are critical to the success of the business, and if people deviate from those values, then they are out of the organisation.

Does articulating the company values usually get the results business owners want?
Articulating it is not enough, the business owner has to walk the talk and lead by example. Sometimes the people who are most resistant to change are the most senior, longest serving employees in the organisation. Their attitude is ‘that’s all very well for the troops but I’m ok doing the same old routine.’ But if everyone acknowledges their underlying negative behaviours, and agrees to buy into a new set of core values and behaviours, then together you can take the company to the next level. Without that buy-in everyone will just continue pulling against each other.

What tools can businesses use to help them clarify their vision, mission and core values?
As part of the futureSME methodology, a method that we use ourselves, we sit with the management team and have them craft a vision, a mission statement, and 5 or 6 core company values that will become part of their new visual strategy for the business. It’s just one part of what is known as visual mapping; a tool that business owners and management teams can use to great effect, with real tangible results.

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