More business leaders care about culture these days but more often than not, the cultures they work in are unconscious and not aligned with the company’s strategy.

‘How we get things done around here’ is now being acknowledged as a key driver in any organization’s success. There is always a culture – that mix of written and unwritten rules about how the dynamics work – in any given organization. Oftentimes though the culture is really more related to previous leaders and previous strategies. It takes effort to create alignment between the new strategy and the culture. That is what we mean by conscious work.

Culture naturally evolves over time through circumstance and strong personalities … as well as allowing things to ride. All these norms become the playbook for how to get things done around here. Normal is whatever behaviour leaders encourage or even just allow. So, you can also bet whatever worst behaviours you are currently tolerating in others at work, from lateness to the occasional throwing someone under the bus to taking credit – your people see that allowed and so that also becomes part of ‘how we get things done around here’.

Why being strategic about your culture is so important is because whatever promise you are making about your brand to your customer, it is your culture that actually dictates how they experience your brand. If you promise to be the happy company yet customers get a grumpy person every time they call in, you are probably losing trust with customers – and employees. And that, of course, impacts the bottom line – as well as how agile you are and how fast you grow.

The brands we tend to reward the most like Toyota, Ikea and Costco – all have shown solid sustainability and the ability to outperform even Good to Great companies – on average 3 to 1 over a ten-year period. They subscribe to the same business philosophy 1-degree does – putting people & culture first. You can read about their best practices for co-creating their cultures and building trust with all their stakeholders in the groundbreaking book, Firms of Endearment.

Interested in taking leadership of your culture? Here are the top 3 things to know:

You can – and should – measure culture

Culture can seem like an elusive thing to wrap your arms around as a leader. The good news is you can measure it. In fact, measuring the health of your culture is an ongoing and necessary piece of this process if accountability for change is to be had. With a tool called the Barrett’s value assessment, that your employees complete and we unpack with you, two things become clear:

1) any dysfunction currently being tolerated – as well as what specific kinds. This is reflected back to you in a score that you can then track with subsequent surveys

2) those key desired values that your employees have an appetite for actioning (ie: accountability, innovation and cross-team collaboration) – their desired values for the culture, in our experience, tend to be the antidote for whatever the current bad behaviours are

Our clients report that employee engagement scores have improved just by virtue of making the culture-creation process intentional and inclusive. One employee commented: “All these years you have paid for the work of my hands. If you had asked, you could have had my head and heart for free

It’s got to come down to specific behaviours

Then its about agreeing to those few key values that the majority of your employees are aligned on leveraging now to grow the company into its next phase. And just as importantly, getting clear and specific on what are the behaviours that animate each value. That way, you can use them as a playbook to guide decisions and priorities every day.

You can also include the values and their behaviours as a weighting in your performance reviews so everyone is accountable for making them real. A client of ours, Woodbine Entertainment, has attached to their manager’s annual salary reviews the expectation of moving down that dysfunction score we mentioned earlier.

And then leaders have to find ways to regularly drive the conversation on those values. Good coaching is key – catching people in the act of doing these behaviours right – and helping them adjust when they fail. Discussing examples in meetings & sharing learning publicly– especially situations that were difficult to honour your core values.

Those changes need to be modelled from the top down

And of course illustrating how to live these values in the face of daily challenges will need to be fully owned from the senior leadership down. We have all experienced leaders that agree to one thing, then under pressure do something else. And you know the kind of cynicism and disengagement that that can feed in the team below.

Leaders holding each other accountable in this process of change is critical. And being real and transparent about when it’s hard – and when they have stumbled – is equally important. That involves keeping the culture conversation in the forefront alongside business results but also involves training on skills like how to give effective feedback to peers.

The process of becoming a great workplace is not for the faint of heart but if you know that is where you want to go, managing and measuring your culture is going to be critical.