Randy Pennington, Owner, Pennington Performance Group

RANDY PENNINGTONRandy is author of three books: Make Change Work, named the 2013 best general business book by USA Book News; Results Rule!®, named the 2007 best general business book by USA Book News; and On My Honor, I Will which Ross Perot described as having “cracked the code of great leadership.”

Pennington’s ideas have been featured in leading visual and print media including CNN, PBS, Fox News, the ABC Radio Network, the BBC Fast Company, and The New York Times. He is a regular contributor to the Huffington Post.

What does organizational culture mean to you?

Organizational culture is reflected in the habits it displays overtimes. Those habits reflect what the organization truly believes – rather than what it says it believes – about people, performance, productivity, customers, and professionalism. In the best cultures, the organization’s values are reflected in its habits. But, I look at the behavior and performance seen and experienced by employees and customers as the best indicator of the culture. No one says that they believe in toxic values, but many organizations have toxic habits.

What are the major determinants of organizational culture?

The organization’s stated values should be the major determinant. Unfortunately, that isn’t always the case. The beliefs of the leadership of the leaders and managers also play a part. Those beliefs influence the types of behavior and performance that are reinforced in both positive and negative terms. If great customer service is reinforced, for instance, that culture will develop. If there are negative consequences for going above and beyond what is expected of a customer, the culture of service will eventually disappear.

What is the role of employees in organizational culture?

Employees play a crucial role in protecting the culture. Without their buy-in and support, the stated culture has no meaning. Also, employees play an important role in both assimilating new hires into the culture and providing accountability with their co-workers. Managers and supervisors can’t be everywhere. The organization needs employees to help model the desired culture and teach new people what it means to be part of a high-performing organization.

What are the common problems associated with managing organizational culture?

There are many potential problems with maintaining a positive organizational culture. The first potential problem is the organization not being intentional about the culture it wants to create. Every organization has a culture. It can’t have one. The crucial challenge is to be intentional about what you want your employees, customers, and vendors to experience as your culture. One way to do that is to clearly define the promises the organization will make to its customers, co-workers/employees, and even to vendors.

Hiring new employees is a second area where problems can arise. We see that the best organizations take conscious and deliberate steps to hire people that fit the desired culture. Unless you are dealing with a highly technical job, it is usually easier to train people to do the job than to convince them to change to become part of the culture.

Finally, inconsistency from managers is another problem that I often observe. Managers must be relentless in pursuit of living the organization’s value, and the organization must be equally committed to ensuring that managers are taught how to live the company’s values and create the culture that it wants. Finally, people must be held accountable when they don’t demonstrate the organization’s desired culture.

What are the ways to innovate company culture? Any best practices to share.

There is one consistent best practice for building a great company culture: pay attention to it every day. Make sure that you have clearly defined the culture you desire. Hire, promote, recognize, and hold people (especially managers) accountable for living and promoting it. Provide training on what the culture is and means to new hires, and link all your other training back to your values and culture. Don’t forget to consider how you want your culture to be viewed by customers. Most important, measure progress through surveys, focus groups, and leadership conversations with employees at every level. Your organization has a culture now. The only question is whether that culture will sustain your organization in the future.

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