By Jason Richmond, CEO & Chief Culture Officer at Ideal Outcomes, Inc.
An organization may have the greatest products or services and exceptional technology but without a strong, motivating culture, they will not sustain success.
There is no doubt leaders must drive culture change from the top. But culture change is also a bottoms-up, grassroots effort. It is the effective balancing and blending of both that will lead to the kind of culture you want to create and help ensure it is sustained. This means leaders need to involve employees at all levels in creating and sustaining the type of culture they want.
Culture committees allow you to involve employees at all levels in creating and reinforcing your culture, especially if your organization is geographically dispersed. Whether you need one or multiple committees will depend on your size and how spread out your organization is. Southwest Airlines, for example, created culture committees back in 1990. They were growing rapidly and wanted to ensure culture consistency across the county. CEO Gary Kelly and Chairman Emeritus Herb Kelleher have often said that it is probably the company’s most important committee.
Forming the committee takes thought and planning. You want to be certain you have a solid cross-functional and multi-level representation of employees. Diversity and inclusion are also important: you want the committee to accurately reflect the makeup of your organization. Diversity of thought is essential. Sometimes organizations hesitate to invite the “naysayers” to be part of the process. But these people bring important perspective and clarity to discussion. On the other hand, you do want people who are willing to commit the time and effort needed, who are good communicators, and open to working in a collaborative setting with shared goals and objectives. Volunteers are typically the best approach, but there is nothing wrong with tapping into some of those informal leaders or those quiet employees who seem to have potential for growth.
The right committees bring different perspectives and experience. They will help you diagnose your current culture in all its glory- as well as the bad and the ugly. A clear, accurate understanding of your culture is essential if you are going to formulate effective strategies for change.
Some of the more granular tasks culture committees can attack include fine-tuning your values, articulating clear behaviors that demonstrate these values, and creating and supporting recognition programs and celebrations as your organization creates culture change successes. Such committee members over time help increase accountability at all levels to the defined cultural aspirations. In fact, they become culture champions, role models and sustainment agents for the whole organization.
Committee members also become your eyes and ears on the ground. They can lead employee discussion and focus groups, conduct culture walks, and in general create buy in for what you want to accomplish. Because the are part of the employee base, they drive culture change organically, creating buy-in and trust. By talking regularly to co-workers, they keep a steady pulse on what is going on. For example, they can quickly determine if employees feel the culture is truly evolving, if leaders are modeling the company’s values, if leaders are listening to employees. They can offer insight that truly complements formal surveys and polls. Committee members can also interact with customers to get their perspective on how well the company’s products and services represent the stated purpose and values.
To have a strong committee, keep in mind executive support is critical. Support has to be more than lip service. Leaders need to set up regular channels of communication with committee members. And they need to listen and take their recommendation to heart, even if they do not like what they hear. They need to set aside budget dollars for meetings and programs that the committee suggests. In other words, this is not an ad hoc project team; it is a group of dedicated employees who regularly advise leadership on culture issues.
Such committees can bring employees together across the organization. They become true culture change agents- living role models for what the company aspires to be.