Stan Slap, CEO, SLAP Company

Stan SlapStan Slap is a renowned thought leader in how to achieve maximum commitment from manager, employee and customer cultures. He wrote the New York Times and Wall St. Journal bestselling books about business culture. His consulting company, called SLAP by a remarkable coincidence, was the first to accurately identify a business culture as an organism that exists to protect itself, the first to identify managers as a distinct culture, and the first to identify a company’s brand status as a tribute that must be paid by its employee and customer cultures. SLAP’s unique and proprietary solutions have achieved legendary performance impact for many of the world’s most successful, demanding companies. The kind that don’t include Patience on their list of corporate values.

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What does organizational culture mean to you?

Every business has three cultures: its manager culture, its employee culture, and its customer culture. We’re not talking about a bunch of managers, employees, and customers. When these groups formed relationships with your company, they became cultures and became far more resistant to standard methods of corporate influence.

A culture happens whenever people share the same living conditions and so band together to share beliefs about the rules of survival and emotional prosperity. In a company this means, “What does it take for me to survive, working in this industry, in this company, on this team, for you? Knowing that I’m going to be okay, then how do I get rewarded emotionally and avoid punishment?”

“Beliefs about the way things are around here,” is often erroneously described as a culture. Those beliefs are the currency of a culture. A culture is a self-protective organism that gathers the beliefs. A culture is a constantly recalibrating belief system about the known rules of survival and emotional prosperity.

What are the major determinants of organizational culture?

An employee culture is an independent organism, living right inside the enterprise, with its own purpose and all of the power to make or break any management plan – and any manager. Its purpose is to protect itself, not the company. Logically protecting the company should come first – from a management perspective. But that would mean your culture perceives a reliable through line between what happens to the company and what happens to the culture, and chances are good that it doesn’t. Achieving cultural commitment is a matter of aligning your culture’s beliefs about protecting itself with what your company believes is needed to protect the enterprise.

A culture’s antennae are working constantly, seeking information it can use to update the known rules of survival and emotional prosperity. Its credibility detector is nearly infallible. Its perceptions are alarming accurate. Its memory is elephantine. You can’t bluff, bribe, or bully a culture into sustainably believing or doing anything. You can’t tell it what to believe or stop it from existing. But you can take great comfort that a culture is the most rational organism in the world – objective, agnostic and constantly open to new input. Your culture will give you whatever you want; you just have to give it what it wants first.

What is the role of employees in organizational culture?

Employees are the organizational culture. It is what the culture says it is that defines a company’s culture; not what the company says it is, which only defines wishful thinking. The self-penned job description of your culture is to protect itself, but if it chooses to the role of the culture is to determine the success of any strategy, performance goal, organizational standard, or published company intention. If your culture wants something to happen, it’s going to happen. If it doesn’t, it won’t happen.

What are the common problems associated with managing organizational culture?

Here are the top 6:

1) “Culture” is the most overused, least understood concept in business, so the biggest problem is an accurate working definition of how a culture works, including that it is not subordinate to business performance but is the driver to business performance, and that is HR’s responsibility, when a great CEO is a Chief Cultural Officer.

2) Because a culture exists to protect itself, it is a closed organism that won’t easily reveal its true motivations and perceptions to management – standard “engagement” surveys give wildly inaccurate impressions of a culture’s commitment.

3) A culture’s belief system was formed long ago and without understanding how it came to its current perceptions and recalibrating those beliefs, it may resist new demands.

4) The greatest missing competency amongst even the smartest management teams is how to reliably gain maximum commitment from their own employee cultures. Without this, any plans coming from the C-Suite don’t stand a chance of being reliably executed.

5) Blaming the culture for how it’s treated is unfair and useless; the culture is simply reacting to what it perceives as reality. It is not naturally resistant to change, it is not motivated mostly by money, and it does not need to be taught to be more accountable or innovative – it needs to be convinced to do these things.

But the number one problem is that companies believe that it is the responsibility of their culture to understand the business logic. In fact, it is the responsibility of the business to understand their culture’s logic. Get this and your own company will be unbeatable in any market you choose to own.

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

It is essential to counter the problems identified in my answer to the prior question. Before doing a lot of great things for your culture, however, it is critical that you emphatically declare why you are doing them – the company’s firm intention about how its culture should be treated. Otherwise, whatever you do will be exchanged by your culture for a short-term performance gain and if you want something else, you’ll have to give it something else – you will have created a transactional culture. However, if your culture identifies what you do for it as confirmation of your stated intention, then you have created a safer place by defining linkage between what the company says and does. At that point, you will have achieved a protective culture because protecting its source of safety is what a culture does first and best.

As to best practices? Sure, there are some companies that do it very well and many of them are our clients. But it’s not about what other companies do; it’s about what you do.  At the risk of sounding like an arrogant snot, this is what my company does. We’ve been achieving maximum commitment in manager, employee and customer cultures for over twenty years.

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