Culture, like the air you breathe, is difficult to get your arms around lever of high performance and workplace engagement. Other commonly recognized performance excellence levers appear easy to move in comparison. Got bad managers? Fire the worst; then train—and reward—the remaining managers for behaviors that engage. Experiencing a disconnect on the branding front? Enlist the training department to lead a learning program to skill-up the workforce.
But culture? It’s amorphous and intangible. Not long ago, biologists were the only ones creating it — in Petri dishes. Organizational development experts studied it, and there were a few maverick businesspeople, like Hal Rosenbluth, chairman and CEO of Rosenbluth International and Herb Kelleher of Southwest Airlines, who credited culture as the secret to their firm’s success. Most businesspeople dismissed it as soft HR stuff — until leaders like Hal Rosenbluth and Herb Kelleher started getting attention for the successes they enjoyed, especially in adverse economic times. Organizational culture is far from fluff. It’s potentially the most powerful performance excellence tool at your disposal. If you get culture right, it provides a foundation for high performance and workplace engagement that can sustain your workforce through good times and bad. That’s because your culture, like the air you breathe, touches all employees. Culture is not an engagement program portioned out to a select group of managers, or a workplace perk that drives high employee survey scores but can succumb to budget cuts when times get tough. Culture is there whether you have deliberately shaped it or not. It makes good business sense to make sure your culture is working for you — to drive high performance and workplace engagement.