Five corporate-culture pitfalls to avoid Nov 27, 2013, 8:00 am By Heidi Carmack Pfaffroth

Guest post by Richard H. Tyson, President, CEObuilder

There are five common errors made regarding corporate culture. Too often, these pitfalls plant the seeds of failure for companies, both large and small. They are:

PITFALL #1: Failing to recognize how important your company culture is to the success of the enterprise. When culture is left to “drift” into existence, it invariably metastasizes into suboptimal behaviors. To avoid this, successful leaders like Tony Hsieh at Zappos have made the development of their corporate culture a continuous crusade. As Tony says, “Your culture is your brand!”

PITFALL #2: Failing to understand and define the culture you have.  Every business has a culture, but we often are too busy with the stresses of everyday commerce to step back and define the current culture. Recognizing the need to do this, Tony Hsieh led an initiative to create a “Zappos Culture Book,” wherein every employee contributes his or her thoughts—and stories—regarding what the company’s culture is. That book is an ongoing effort. Not surprisingly the number one value employees used to describe the Zappos culture is Culture is Everything!

PITFALL #3: Failing to define the culture you want. After a rigorous assessment of your current culture, it’s easy to stop there. That is a mistake. Analysis of the current culture, complete with all warts and suboptimal behaviors, should be undertaken. Thereafter you should define the behaviors you would like to see manifested in your culture. At Zappos, the list from employees defining their current culture was 37 items long.  After analyzing it, they refined it to 10 core values which empower the day-to-day behaviors of their employees.

PITFALL #4: Keeping culture discussions in the executive suite. Culture discussions should begin with corporate leaders; if they are not highly engaged, culture is destined to drift. However, too often executives feel the need to define all aspects of the culture, failing to engage employees actively in the dialogue that develops, strengthens, and maintains corporate culture. Executives should realize that effective culture development involves both good content (what the culture is or should become) and good process (how culture content is developed and how employees are engaged).

PITFALL #5: Failing to sustain the desired culture. Too often leaders see the development of their culture as an event, rather than a process. They fail to make their culture an essential aspect of their hiring, firing, and operating processes. Once again, Tony Hsieh, is a master of doing this the right way. He insists that Zappos recruits people who fit their culture. They are put through an intensive orientation and training program, after which they are offered a $2,000 check—to go away! You are reading that correctly. Zappos is willing to invest real cash in paying recruits to not work for them if after their initial training, they feel they don’t fit in.

“Once you have a culture, invest in it,” Tony Hsieh said “Recognize that it is a long-term investment.”

That is the essence of great culture leadership: sustaining by investing for the long haul. When you do this, the benefits far exceed short-term excitement; indeed they create the deep commitment and engagement that drive highly successful enterprises.

Richard Tyson is the founder, principal owner and president of CEObuilder, which provides forums for consulting and coaching to executives in small businesses. For 21 years, CEObuilder has successfully brought about an outstanding financial return for CEO and executive clients through providing leading-edge content in the areas of strategizing, team building, problem solving and managing for results, as well as the use of proprietary learning and coaching.

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