How to Get Your C-Suite to Care About Culture

How can HR professionals help C-suite leaders care about culture? Or, even better, help senior leaders proactively engage in culture management?

The good news is that most senior leaders understand that culture is important. 82% of respondents to Deloitte’s 2016 Global Human Capital Trends survey believe that culture is a competitive advantage.

Yet, the cold, hard truth is that few senior leaders have ever experienced successful culture change, much less led one. They don’t know how. To expect senior leaders to effectively manage the quality of the work culture isn’t realistic.

And, culture drives everything that happens in your organization, for better or worse. The benefits of a purposeful, positive, productive work culture are well proven. My culture clients have seen growth in employee engagement, customer service and results and profits once they begin to change their culture.

It is frustrating when C-suite leaders are indifferent to the quality of the work culture. It can be demoralizing when they don’t show any concern about the degree of trust and respect across workplace relationships every day. Senior leaders are trainable, though — and the best coaches for building culture savviness in C-suite leaders are HR professionals.

Two ways to get them to care

Here are two tactical ways you can influence senior leaders to pay greater attention to work culture. These approaches have worked for dozens of my clients!

In a few cases, these steps have generated short term increases in work culture health, but didn’t move the needle on creating culture champions of every senior leader. However, without taking these two steps, you’ll be stuck where you are today — with inconsistent engagement, wildly varying customer service, and results falling short of what is within reach.

1. Show them the data

Senior leaders are comfortable relying on performance data. They are likely less comfortable with human capital data like employee engagement surveys, values surveys, leadership impact surveys, retention data, and the like.

What these reports provide is undeniable data about the current operating culture. Low engagement scores, poor retention rates, stated values not demonstrated in workplace interactions, etc. are common in our organizations today. However, companies with high engagement are more profitable, have higher customer loyalty and much lower attrition. Yet, I’ve seen senior leaders deny the results of engagement surveys when the results don’t conform to what they (mistakenly) believe — but your opportunity requires you to present the unvarnished truth.

For example, a startling number of employees – 83% – want to leave their jobs, according to Solving the Talent Crisis, a 2018 talent intelligence survey. 53% of those employees are looking for a job with a new employer while 30% are looking for a new role in their current companies.

Your retention risks may not be as dire as this study reveals, but you have opportunities to create an attractive, inspiring work culture, which will attract and retain talented, engaged employees.

First, you need to know where you stand. You may need to secure funding for an engagement survey. It will take a few months to pull the logistics together and run the survey. It’s worth it. I recommend clients do engagement surveys at least twice annually.

You also might not have leadership impact data. I encourage my clients to use Human Synergistics’ Leadership Impact surveys to provide leaders with more “undeniable data” about the impact of their strategies on others’ behavior and performance. Their profile reveals the degree to which their impact is constructive – positive and beneficial – or defensive – aggressive defensive or passive defensive. For most senior leaders, this survey provides the first time in their career to see others’ perspective of their impact, which is typically far more defensive than leaders want.

2. Create pockets of excellence

Show them proof! The most impactful data for C-suite leaders is how a purposeful, positive, productive work culture improves results. Those are metrics that matter deeply to senior leaders!

Senior leaders are very adept at discounting the benefit of the culture of other organizations and industries. (“We’re not Starbucks!” or “WD-40 Companies is totally different than our business!”) So, create pockets of excellence within your own organization and show them the benefits.

What is needed for a pocket of excellence is an intact division, which has a senior leader who is willing to engage in culture refinement. The intact division might be separate from headquarters – in a separate building or a separate state. That separation allows the process to take hold without distraction from senior leaders and from the norms of the headquarters culture.

This intact division will operate as a “skunk works,” implementing proven culture refinement practices in a separate organization – and seeing how the improved work culture quality impacts engagement, service, and results.

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That division’s senior leader being a culture champion doesn’t mean she or he knows how to change culture. Get outside help – qualified consulting expertise – to help the senior leaders of that division define their desired culture, align all plans, decisions, and actions to that desired culture, and refine culture elements over time.

It’ll take time. With a proven process, client see measurable results in trust, respect, cooperation, service, and performance in as few as six months – and greater traction on these beneficial measures at the 12- and 18-month mark.

Then, show your C-suite leaders the benefits. They can’t discount the experience of their own division. Hopefully their eyes will be open to the need to do the exact same process at headquarters and in other divisions and business units over time.

Your task is to start the process. Get the data. Help create pockets of excellence that help C-suite leaders “get” the powerful impact of culture. Then, coach those leaders to model it and support it.

You’re going to be there, anyway, right?