How Corporate Culture Can Affect Innovation and Corporate Success

07/25/2017 08:59 am ET

Every business has a corporate culture ingrained into its operations. It's an invisible force that creates shared attitudes and values among its workforce, defines the nature with which it reacts and engages with the outside world, and gives the brand a distinct personality. This culture can be both positive or negative, and responsible for either corporate success or corporate decline.

Whether you have a small business or a global empire, improvements cannot be made to your company's corporate culture unless you continually seek out and solve problems that hinder positive growth. While this may require a significant cultural change and organizational shakeup, through orientation and behavior-setting, you can make a positive transformation.

So how can a company do this in an era where so many great brands are struggling to do so? I had the chance to discuss the topic with Tristan Boutros, Professor of Computer Science at Columbia University and award-winning author of several business transformation books, including the Basics of Process Improvement (CRC Press). In our discussion, five key actions emerged that form the basis of the approach he has implemented in the past.

Devise a Clear and Concise Vision Statement

A healthy corporate culture begins with solid leadership. You must both convey your vision clearly, as well as set the standard for your entire workforce. Therefore, before you start making any transformations, the strategy and goals should be clearly identified and articulated. “Summarize your company's need to change, along with an inspiring vision of the future.” Boutros states. “Make sure all of your workforce, from entry-level employees to upper management, fully understand the importance of change and what will come of it” he adds.

Devising your vision is the easy part, but upholding your new company values is the real challenge. In order to succeed you must continuously promote these values and emphasize the core of your company culture. That means ensuring it's clearly and prominently articulated to all of your clients and colleagues in everything you do.

Abandon Anything that Isn't Working

Bruce Lee once said, “It's not the daily increase but daily decrease. Hack away at the unessential.” He may have been a martial artist, but this is excellent advice for anyone working in the corporate sector. Rid your organization of waste and you'll free up time for revenue generating activities. This will naturally lead to a more focused workforce, and thus, greater prosperity. But keep in mind that the only way to filter out unnecessary activities is to pinpoint problems and their true causes.

Take the time you need to reflect on your problems and assess their root cause. Tristan’s other book, titled, The Process Improvement Handbook: A Blueprint for Managing Change & Increasing Organizational Performance, recommends devising a systematic problem-solving process such as the PDCA cycle: plan, do, check, act. This will allow you to pinpoint problems on an issue-by-issue basis, monitor the situation for results, and continue to make gradual changes without needing to completely re- engineer your processes or operations. This approach can be implemented across either individual departments or an entire organization (big or small).

Start Changing Company Habits

It's not easy to change habitual behavior, but with determination and a simple approach, it can be achieved. To facilitate change, expose your workforce to others who have been successful through conferences, training, books, and by hiring new people who have the culture traits you're seeking. Change will only occur if your team feels motivated to change. Boutros says, “A key to success is ensuring everyone receives recognition for good work and any needed developmental support. This can increase engagement and job satisfaction. So many leaders and organizations forget to celebrate their successes and provide the needed tools for their employees to succeed.”

Never underestimate the importance of feeling valued and be mindful of your employees and their work-life balance. Ensure your workers take adequate vacation time, permit flexible working hours (if possible), create clear opportunity tracks and advancement opportunities within the organization, and frequently conduct performance reviews and check-ins.

Reiterate Your Message and Values

When you've finally changed your corporate culture, established a company-wide direction, and know exactly where you stand with regards to values, start displaying your message and story publicly. Everything from your branding to your staff's public persona should reiterate the tone of your company.

In addition, any new values should not only be emphasized, but also ingrained into policies and processes. Boutros states, “It must be reinforced frequently and in varying forms. From performance criteria and competencies, to promotional policies and also baked into the operating principles and processes of daily life in the firm.” In short, authenticity is key, so focus on remaining true to your word.

Become a Leader and Set an Example

Process improvement culture must always begin with leadership. Only then will it filter down through the organization. Without strong leadership at the top, improvement and innovation will inevitably falter. It's everyone’s job to connect all the dots and ensure that the culture never reverts back to where it once was. This means you should actively enable and empower others, help them grow both professionally and personally, and encourage them to use their initiative. This will lead to greater accountability and a corporate culture that's a catalyst for consistent improvement.

According to a study conducted by Gallup, entitled The State of the Global Workplace, 63% of employees stated that they do not feel engaged at work, while a further 27% said they felt disengaged. Boutros references this study regularly, and says, “As a leader it's your job to ensure your workforce finds joy in their everyday activities. If you exude leadership in everything you do, and give the right amount of autonomy to teams, innovation and prosperity will be a natural progression, and with time, your workforce will become brand ambassadors, taking great pride in their roles, showcasing your company whenever and wherever possible. Eventually these attributes will start reflecting in the bottom line.”

Fundamentally, a clearly defined corporate culture enables people to do their best work. Whether you're a manager with your eye on profits, an HR representative trying to create a more disciplined, happier workforce, or simply a student of business, embracing the aforementioned ideas will set you on the path of operational excellence, boosting innovation and corporate success in the process.

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