Be out front with your company culture

Many companies miss the opportunity to communicate proactively and directly with their most critical stakeholders - employees.

As the New Year kicked off, so did my desire to get organized. While standing in line at a discount store to purchase items to jumpstart my efforts, I overheard a conversation between two women who worked there.

One shared how she heard that their company, known for dollar-priced items, would be raising prices. She had seen it on TV. Her co-worker was immediately skeptical and not sure it would work because customers would never go for it.

By this point, my curiosity had gotten the best of me and I asked them both if anything had been shared with team members since the story aired. Confirming my suspicion, they said it had not.

For a good chunk of my career I’ve worked with organizations to help them navigate cultural and transformative strategies. I also teach these core strategies in my college communications classes, particularly when it comes to engaging employees. Time and again I am struck by how many companies miss the opportunity to communicate proactively and directly with their most critical stakeholders – employees.

On a recent episode of Super Soul Sunday, Sheryl Sandberg talked about delivering the gut wrenching news to her son that his father, her husband, had unexpectedly died. In the midst of his grief, he said something she would never forget: "Mom, thank you for telling me yourself."

And there it is. Whether it’s professional or personal, good news or bad, people want to be treated as valued and trusted members of the family. So as we begin the year, I thought I would share some simple tactics to help senior leaders differentiate their culture from others.

Understand the currency of culture. We all understand sales and revenue generating strategies. But many of us miss opportunities to build and maintain cultures that are reflective of people who are passionate, engaged and aligned – people who are of a culture, and not just in it.

The late PR titan Al Golin is legendary for his "trust bank" principle that helped clients understand the importance of trust as currency. Culture is the same. An investment in people, passion, and principles is priceless.

Remix and reinvigorate. Maybe your organization is recognized for being people-centric, being the company that "gets it," and having made the commitment to taking an inside out approach. But transformation is not an event, it’s a process. And when you feel like you’ve arrived, the journey has just begun.

With that in mind think, what can you do differently or more efficiently with your culture? Could new people with different insights from non-traditional industries bring a refreshing perspective? And just as important, how can your current team members bring creative contributions, or shed light on existing opportunities to renew a sense of value in your culture? Don’t stop now, you’re just getting started.

Be out front with your culture. It takes courage to be out front. And while it’s true that PR firms are experts at generating headlines, being out front is not about recognition or getting credit for being first.

Also, being out front doesn’t simply mean thinking of a new idea or challenging existing ideas. It means making sure something gets done. Often, organizations face crises that are not total surprises. And most are completely avoidable when someone in leadership takes the opportunity to get out front.

You should take a wholehearted approach to conversations and coalition building within your organization as much and as often as you do with external commitments. Be committed this year to having fewer, "why didn’t we think of that" moments and more, "I’m so glad we thought of that and were able to affect positive outcomes" moments.

Rashada Whitehead is a reputation, culture and business transformation leader who helps brands consciously navigate big changes.

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