A few years ago I had the chance to go on a whitewater rafting trip with some friends. Before we were ever allowed in the water, our guide spent a significant amount of time with us discussing safety rules and rafting techniques. He explained what we were to do, when to do it, and why it was important. We practiced responding to commands and ducking into the boat.
He wanted to make sure that when we were in the middle of a large rapid, we would all be on the same page, and respond appropriately.
Organizations face similar challenges every day. How do you ensure that everyone on your team is headed in the same direction? How do you make sure they are prepared to work as a team and respond appropriately when the heat is on.
We have previously covered the importance of defining an organizational philosophy and the impact it can have on results. Defining the guiding principles for your team helps them to prepare for the uncertain situations that they will face.
Once you have defined your philosophy, the next challenge is to equip your team to follow it. If it is not understood and followed by everyone, it may as well not exist.
Here are three key strategies you can use to ensure your philosophy will spread throughout your organization.
A great place to start in spreading your philosophy across your organization is through formal training. If your team isn’t familiar with the philosophy, how can they be expected to follow it?
If you are rolling out a newly defined philosophy, some form of initial training for all employees should be utilized to ensure everyone has the same basic understanding of the concepts. Orientation of new employees should also include this information to ensure they have the same understanding as existing employees.
While it is a great start, one-time training, or even periodic training, will not be enough. The concepts must be continually communicated and reinforced.
Any communication with your team is an opportunity to reinforce your philosophy. Reference key values and approaches in any formal communications. Tie announcements, decisions, and initiatives back to the philosophy in some way. Share examples of others in the organization that are living out the values you desire.
The more your team hears and sees the philosophy in action, the more they will be able to understand and internalize it.
One way to facilitate the frequent communication of your organizational philosophy is to develop a common language around it. Develop key words and phrases that can trigger certain behaviors or thoughts. If you are ever on a golf course and someone yells, “Fore!”, you know to duck and cover. When used consistently and pervasively, even short words or phrases can convey much more complicated or nuanced meaning to your team.
Eliminate the use of synonyms as much as possible to reduce the effects of semantics on your efforts. You don’t need six different words for the same concept. If everyone is speaking the same language and using the same terminology, there is much less room for interpretation errors or confusion.
The development of an organization-specific language can even encourage individuals to embrace the philosophy. They must learn the language and how to use it in order to fit in. As they do, they will gradually adjust their approach to fit the culture.
Make It Relevant
While it is valuable to ensure that all members of your team are familiar with your vision, it will not have the desired impact if they do not know how to make it personal. Having the ability to recite company values or mission statements does not make much difference if they are not put into practice.
To avoid this problem, it is important to provide guidance to your team to help them convert the principles and concepts of your philosophy into action.
Provide them with example behaviors that follow the principles you are trying to spread. Some of these behaviors may be deemed “non-negotiable” behaviors that are expected of everyone. Others could be examples that can be followed if the situation is appropriate. It is important to stress that employees take ownership of the philosophy and make their own decisions on how best to live out the organizational philosophy.
Principles can also be worked into the daily routine to help reinforce the concepts and encourage desired behaviors. Your daily agenda should reflect the values and approach that are important to you.
If your organizational philosophy is one that stresses continuous improvement, then there should be time scheduled to ensure the related activities occur. Leaders and managers should be held accountable for providing resources for improvement activities. Reviewing and evaluating improvement progress should be a common activity. It should be readily apparent to an outside observer that continuous improvement is an important part of your organization.
This approach can also be extended to the tools that your teams use to perform their work. Is there a common language used across forms and templates? Are tools designed to walk individuals through steps that follow your philosophy? Do metrics encourage behaviors that are aligned with your values?
Everything must work together to support the desired culture.
Ensure You Have the Right People
Even when you do all of these things, it is possible to have trouble spreading your philosophy. You can do a fantastic job of creating an environment in which your organizational philosophy is clearly communicated, desired behaviors have been defined, and all of your tools and processes are designed in support of your philosophy, but still not have success.
It all comes down to the people involved. If they are not willing or able to follow the philosophy of your organization, there is nothing you can do to force it.
This is why it is so important to hire the right people from the beginning. Once your philosophy has been defined, it should be worked into the hiring process. Make sure the individuals you hire will be able to conform to this philosophy in their new roles. Even better, try to find individuals who naturally relate to and embrace the philosophy. They can become champions within the organization and bring others along.
Each step of the hiring process should be designed to identify candidates that fit your philosophy. Look for examples of desired behaviors in their resumes. Spend time discussing and asking questions about philosophy during the interview process. Ask references how employees will fit in your environment.
Use every opportunity to focus on organizational fit. If you don’t, you may end up with individuals that have the right skills, but cannot exhibit them in a way that supports your organizational philosophy.
What if you do end up hiring someone that does not fit? Or you have existing employees that do not fit the culture you are trying to create?
If providing feedback, making sure the expectations are clear, and working to develop the employee are not successful, it may be time to consider a change.
It is not uncommon for there to be individuals that are not able to shift their own personal behaviors enough to fit a particular culture. While it is unfortunate, the best thing for both parties involved is to move on. It does not mean that person was a failure, or that they are a bad person, just that this particular organization is not the best for them. While the process of moving on can be uncomfortable, it is best for everyone in the long run.
It’s a Continual Process
In case you missed it, the common denominator in each of these strategies is that they are continual. There are no magic bullets that will get everyone in your organization on the same page with a one-time effort.
It takes persistent effort to ensure every individual understands the philosophy, knows how it relates to them, and is able to put it into practice. The results that you will achieve when everyone is aligned are definitely worth the effort.
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