3 Things Leaders Should Know About Culture

Align culture with goals for higher returns

by Haworth, Inc.

Culture matters. Your organization’s culture is the very essence of your business—its values, how it functions, how people in it and around it interact with one another. When culture and business goals align, employees are more in tune with what it means to be part of your organization. A healthy culture is, in fact, a catalyst for employee engagement, collaboration, and innovation—all of which help your business yield higher returns.

Right now, you may be thinking, Yes. Culture. Alignment. Higher returns. Sounds great! But, how does my company make that culture/goal alignment happen? It’s not magic. It will take some work and analysis, but it will be worth the effort. Professor Jeff DeGraff from the University of Michigan Ross School of Business, says that as a leader, you should understand three things about culture:

1. The Situation

There is no one-size-fits-all culture—simply because no two businesses are alike. What works for Google doesn’t work for McDonald’s, and what works for either of them doesn’t necessarily work for other businesses. So, it’s important to consider and assess your company’s individual situation. Where does the main focus of your business lie?

  • Collaborate: Doing things together, with internal partnerships and team building, in a flexible, people-centered work environment.
  • Create: Doing things first, differentiating itself with a high degree of experimentation and individuality.
  • Control: Doing things right, through internal procedures, with a need for stability and control.
  • Compete: Doing things fast, through external competition, with a drive for results.

2. The Timeline
How fast does work need to be done at your company? Do you have a lot of time to devote to experimentation and planning? Or, are your projects more on the “turn and burn” side, needing to be completed quickly?

Neither is right or wrong, good or bad. But, timeframes definitely affect your culture. If your project timeline is extremely short, for example, you may find that your business fits into a Compete culture—more so than you originally thought. Or, you may take a good amount of time planning and developing, which could put your business into the Create culture. But, if you’re having a hard time trying to decide, you may have different departments that run on different timelines. This is where subcultures come in.

3. Subcultures
While your business has an overall dominant culture that aligns with its goals, that culture may not appear everywhere within your organization—and actually, it shouldn’t. Your company may contain many different subcultures, representing the different parts of your business. This is not dysfunction! These differences allow departments to perform efficiently, based on their specific goals and functions.

Here’s an example:

Let’s say you lead a company that develops and manufactures some incredible new technological marvel—say, a supersonic delivery drone. (Wouldn’t that be great?) Overall, you decide that your business has a dominant Create culture. The people who came up with this super-fast drone idea actually do their work in that Create culture, creating and developing new products and features. However, there are other employees and departments within your company that have different functional subcultures.

Your company would probably also have a drone manufacturing department, which would function best in a Control culture, making sure everything is built exactly to specs and quality standards. Then, there’s the marketing department—coming together in a Collaborate culture to plan strategies that target customers, build awareness, and help drive the efforts of the sales team. And that sales team works best in a Compete culture by being first to bring solutions to your customers.

A successful culture isn’t just about posting a mantra on a banner in your office. It’s dynamic—like your business. By examining your situation, addressing timelines, and understanding the subcultures that exist, you can begin to align your organizational culture with your business strategies and goals. And that healthy culture, in turn will keep employees engaged for better returns on creativity, innovation, and your investment.