If you discussed corporate culture with a team of sales executives fifteen years ago, you’d likely see multiple pairs of glazed-over eyes and a number of stifled yawns. Company culture has traditionally been regarded as a “soft” feature of a business’s identity, because it was tricky to measure and even more difficult to change. While company culture has always influenced employees’ opinions of their roles in the workforce, it has never been more important than it is in 2016. This is partly due to the rising population of millennials in the workforce, who have a much different outlook on career paths than those of the Baby Boomers and Gen Xers. According to research done by PWC, millennials “expect rapid progression, a varied and interesting career and constant feedback… [They] want a management style and corporate culture that is markedly different from anything that has gone before—one that meets their needs.”
There is no doubt that positive corporate culture matters more than ever; it has gone from a “soft” perk to a must-have for corporate identity, and it can singlehandedly hinder a company’s growth potential by deterring top talent. I spoke with John Mattone, a top-ranked executive leadership coach and keynote speaker, about how culture can make or break a company and why the most successful cultures have strong leaders behind them. While John’s research and insights are applicable to all business leaders, sales executives especially have a lot to learn from him.
Why culture matters
John, who will be releasing his eighth book Cultural Transformations tomorrow, told me that there is a direct relationship between culture and operating success. This means that if your culture isn’t strong and vibrant, your company’s overall success can suffer. “Research conducted by Deloitte has found that there are two major gaps that impede company greatness: culture gaps and leadership gaps. Senior executives are beginning to recognize that communicating and actively reinforcing culture is the most crucial part of their jobs, and nothing is more important than having a culture that acts as the leading indicator of operational success,” John stated.
How can companies measure culture?
Because culture is no longer a “soft” feature of organizational success, it must be measured quantifiably so change can occur if necessary. The right company culture drives employee engagement, which can be measured by employee’s beliefs that they feel connected, are able to execute on a high level, and can collaborate with those around them. These beliefs are particularly important sales teams, as healthy competition and collaboration are essential to success. According to John, just 15% of companies measure culture, while 70% measure employee engagement. In order to better align employees with culture, leaders must accurately measure both and ensure that they’re aligned. In his new book, John discusses five key “cultures” that determine a company’s operational success:
- Can-do culture: To what extent does your organization develop the inner-core values, beliefs and emotional make-up, and outer-core competencies and skills of employees that help the organization succeed?
- Will-do culture: To what extent is your organization’s vision, mission and purpose one that excites and motivates leaders and employees? Do employees truly believe that they can positively impact the business and add value to customers and society?
- Must-do culture: To what extent is there a clear vision and strategy for the organization? Do different parts and levels of the organization share the same vision?
- Individual culture: To what extent are leaders and employees true “role models”? Is there a culture of individual excellence and execution? Do employees “walk the talk”?
- Team culture: To what extent is there a team and collaborative approach to getting things done in the organization?
If organizations have these five engines operating at a high level, they will experience a strong culture that employees identify with, resulting in high operational success. John’s book goes into greater detail about how to quantify these five aspects of culture which includes an in-depth employee survey, but you can also create your own based on your specific company values.
How a leader’s disruptive mindset builds strong culture
In his upcoming book, John interviews fourteen successful executives to learn about their leadership styles and how they disseminate culture throughout their organizations. These leaders, who all fostered a positive culture that has contributed to operational success, all possessed a disruptive mindset. According to John, a disruptive mindset requires the following:
- Thinking big: These fourteen leaders are confident, yet not unbridled or arrogant, and are able to balance confidence with openness—to feedback, input, and improvement—that allows them to hear and evaluate new ideas.
- Vulnerability: Coupled with openness, successful leaders are able to both believe in themselves and their organization while also recognizing weaknesses and areas of improvement.
- Leading by example: Leaders with a disruptive mindset leverage their own strengths but also those of their team members. You wouldn’t put a punter out on the field as a linesman; sales leaders should apply the same mindset to their own teams to address developmental and operational needs.
- Effective execution: A disruptive leader isn’t able to think big if he or she doesn’t have the courage to take action when it’s necessary. While leaders should be able to adequately time the execution of strategies, solutions and more, they should also understand that it’s okay to make mistakes—and it’s okay for employees to as well.
- Vigilance: After executing a plan, policy or strategy, disruptive leaders should vigilantly monitor how that execution affected his or her team, organization or external audiences.
- Course-correction: This goes hand-in-hand with vulnerability and vigilance; if a leader is not assessing his or her effectiveness and is not open to change, it’s difficult to improve.
What’s inhibiting leaders from building a successful culture
During our discussion, John cited complacency as the biggest challenge leaders face when building and maintaining a successful culture. “If a leader is able to take these six attributes [above], and has the five culture engines running on all cylinders, he or she will succeed. But if there is no agility around change, and leaders aren’t willing to put the work in to foster that change, complacency can kill a company’s culture and operational success,” John stated. Sales leaders must be the change agent for their organizations by taking the disruptive mindset to heart and working with other departmental leaders to measure and assess the health of the company’s culture.