Culture Starts at the Top
Last week we started the conversation about culture by establishing that we need to define culture before we can deliver great customer experience. Today, we are talking about how to build strong organizational culture.
First and foremost, you need the right leader. Without a leader who believes that today’s business success is about acquiring and retaining customers, you cannot even begin the process of building a culture. Leaders who are passionate about the customer are also passionate about creating culture and employee engagement.
How Leaders Create Strong Organizational Culture
Leaders create the culture of an organization. Their actions and words form the storytelling and folklore of the company. That is the strongest source of culture. Folklore is not designed. It is an account of what happened. In that sense, the leader at the top defines the culture of his/her company.
Dave Barger, the former CEO of JetBlue Airways, remembered the name of every employee he met. He stopped employees in the hallway to shake hands or high five. Every new hire knew the stories about Dave Barger. The CEO and his values were part of the folklore – and the identity – of the company. Airline employees knew Dave as the man who started his career as a bag handler. He was someone who walked the talk because he knew firsthand what it is like to be on the front line.
These kinds of stories can’t be choreographed. If they were, they would not be retold by employees. Nor would they be embraced.
Dave used to fly to Orlando, where JetBlue’s training center is, to meet every new employee as part of an Orientation process for new hires of all ranks. Every two weeks, he spent two days in Orlando telling the story of how the company started and sharing his passion for the industry with flight attendants, bag handlers, and support function new hires.
The Mechanics of Culture
So how was culture instituted in JetBlue’s case? Once people knew what a caring and passionate leader Dave Barger was, they wanted to emulate him. Even more, they wanted him to be proud of them. So they tried to do what he did in their small orbits of influence.
And it worked. The General Manager of Boston took care and connected with all his employees in the operation. The VP of the Contact Center made the offices in Salt Lake City a home for all her employees, supporting them through personal and family struggles. The culture “JetBlue is your family” started with the CEO. But it did not end with him.
The company culture that stimulated employee engagement and fueled customer experience could not have grown without a leader who “lived the values” every day of his life.
Culture Goal is Real
According to Lumoa “Only 13% of companies believe that HR has an impact on Customer Experience activities in the company.” This is one of the reasons so many companies have a hard time making CX part of their core value proposition. A great leader knows that culture needs both folklore to inspire, and a reward system to acknowledge when culture values are done right.
When culture is important to the leader, he/she incorporates it into a culture goal for the executive team. In JetBlue for example, HR managed the culture goal. And it accounted for 20% of the goals for all Directors. Part of the culture goal was to adopt a city station and visit the employees four times a year. What do you think happened when it rained and we still had to travel to our respective cities? We all went, since there was an incentive to do so.
Include HR in Culture Goals
HR is integral not only in the culture goal setting process, but also in the programming of events and initiatives that bring that culture to the daily lives of employees.
That programming is essential to promoting and maintaining culture in your organization, for the benefit of employees and customers, as we will explore in some exciting upcoming conversations.
Keep Strong Organizational Culture Top of Mind
What you need to walk away knowing right now is that, when culture is top of mind for leadership, leadership supports employees who live out culture goals. Let’s carry through the JetBlue example. Under Dave Barger, caring was a culture goal. Employees earned credit for volunteering outside the organization. And employees with the most hours were honored at a gala dinner with the CEO and executive team (that means real face-time with leadership).
Compensation and rewards like this – moments of awe for employees – close the loop with the executive team. That is how we build cultures in organizations in a way that shows results in the daily life of employees and the experience of customers.
So, if you are serious about culture, hire the right leader for your organization and start building from there.
Confused about where to start? We can help you build your culture goals throughout your organizational structure, from HR to leadership, to front line employees.
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