Is your culture a competitive advantage?

Your culture is your ultimate “uncopyable” competitive advantage. But, is your culture providing you with the advantage you need?

In the January February issue of HBR, Sigal Barsade and Olivia A. O’Neill reported that cultures that create “positive emotions are consistently associated with better performance, quality and customer service — this holds true across roles and industries and at various organizational levels.” They cite companies doing everything from creating fun to not tolerating rude behavior to even daily measurement of how people feel about work. The goal is not to do what they did but to do what creates the productive and healthy culture you need.

Dave Ulrich (the #1 guru on HR issues, rbl.net) points out in the upcoming issue of Strategic HR Journal that culture is something that outlives any individual or leader. His data looking at 1500 companies suggests that culture was a bigger predictor of success than individual knowledge or skills. He goes on to point out that culture may start with symbols, behaviors, beliefs and values but the real test is when culture is part of your brand. Culture must become something that customers, partners, and job candidates see as a sign of who you are and what they want to be a part of.
So now the million (multimillion) dollar question. Is your organizational culture contributing to or taking away from your strategic goals?

Assess how well your culture is providing you a competitive advantage in each of these areas:
· Executive and Leadership team effectiveness: Are open and inclusive discussions the norm or are grandstanding, attacks and silos tolerated? Does the meeting really happen in the meeting? Do executives go to the source to deal with issues or talk behind people’s backs? Is accountability a positive or a negative? Do tough decisions get made or are they drawn out?

· Strategy quality: Is the strategy process inclusive of players up and down the org or done only by a few and then thrown over the fence? Are market changes truly considered or are they ignored and you return to same old strategy? Is strategy used weekly as a tool or something you did at the last retreat?

· Employee engagement: Are candidates attracted to you because of your culture? Are people willing to share bad news early? Are teams clear on direction and the reasons why this direction? Are people included in decisions or just expected to follow? Do people know they really matter to you? Do you smile at them (Yes… Smiling is a big deal)? Are people acknowledged, appreciated, and rewarded or just expected to do their work?

· Execution effectiveness: Are processes established and updated or are things done because they have always been done that way? Are people trained in how to improve processes? Are you rewarding both short-term progress and outcomes rather than just the long term goal?

If you have not decided to make time for your culture, your culture will decide your future without you. You can change culture and your results when you get intentional.

About the Author

Dave Jennings accelerates meaningful change. He has worked with leaders from 20 of the Fortune 500 and spoken in 23 countries. His articles and commentary have been featured in The Washington Post, Forbes, and thestreet.com. He is author of Catapulted: How Great Leaders Succeed Beyond their Experience. Contact Dave at dave@davejennings.com.

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