An organization might have the greatest products or services combined with exceptional technology, but without a strong, motivating culture, they will not sustain success.
A thriving corporate culture must be driven from the top, but it will still fall apart without bottom-up, grassroots input and support. It is the effective balancing and blending of both that leads to the kind of culture you want to create and help sustain. To achieve this, leaders must involve employees who are representative of the entire company workforce.
One effective way to do this is to establish inclusive culture committees, especially if your organization is geographically dispersed. Whether you need one or multiple committees depends on your size and how spread out your organization is.
An exceptional pioneer in this field is Southwest Airlines, which created companywide culture committees at a time when the airline was growing rapidly and wanted to ensure culture consistency across the country. Founder Herb Kelleher even said these committees are the most important things Southwest has.
At my company, we have helped companies establish culture committees not only at their corporate offices, but also at subsidiaries. We have involved employees at all levels to establish programs that reflect a culture everyone embraces. Some of the goals of these committees have included defining the right behaviors to support company values, reviewing and aligning recognition and reward programs with culture, and developing culture communication and sustainability strategies.
Why are culture committees important?
Culture committees bring different perspectives and experiences. They help you diagnose your current culture in all its glory — as well as the bad and the ugly. A clear, accurate understanding of your culture is essential if you are going to formulate effective strategies for change.
Some of the more granular tasks culture committees can attack include fine-tuning your company’s values, articulating clear behaviors that demonstrate these values, and creating and supporting recognition programs and celebrations as your organization creates culture change successes. Such committee members help increase accountability at all levels to the defined cultural aspirations. In fact, they become culture champions, role models and sustainment agents for the whole organization.
Committee members also become your eyes and ears on the ground. They can lead employee discussion and focus groups and, in general, create buy-in for what you want to accomplish. Because they are part of the employee base, they drive culture change organically, thus creating participation and trust. By talking regularly to co-workers, they keep a steady pulse on what is going on.
For example, they can quickly determine if employees feel the culture is truly evolving, if leaders are modeling the company’s values, if leaders are listening to employees and more. They can offer insight that truly complements formal surveys and polls. Committee members can also interact with customers to get their perspectives on how well the company’s products and services represent the stated purpose and values.
How can you get started?
Forming a culture committee takes thought and planning. First, you need to be certain you have a solid cross-functional and multilevel representation of employees. Diversity and inclusion are also important: The committee should accurately reflect the makeup of your organization.
The diversity of thought is essential. Sometimes, I’ve found that organizations hesitate to invite the naysayers to be part of the process, but these people bring important perspectives and clarity to the discussion and need to be involved. On the other hand, you also want people who are willing to commit the required time and effort, who are good communicators, and who are open to working in a collaborative setting with shared goals and objectives.
Recruiting volunteers is typically the best approach, but there is nothing wrong with tapping into some of those informal leaders or quiet employees who seem to have the potential for growth.
To have a strong committee, keep in mind that executive support is critical. Support has to be more than lip service. Set up regular channels of communication with committee members. Take their recommendations to heart, even if you do not like what you hear, and set aside budget dollars for meetings and programs that the committee suggests. In other words, this is not an ad hoc project team; it is a group of dedicated employees who regularly advise leadership on culture issues.
Such committees can bring employees together across the organization. They become true culture change agents — living role models for what the company aspires to be.