If I asked your employees, “What’s it like to work at your company?” their answers would largely describe your company culture. How would your employees answer? Would you like what you heard? If not, a leader’s responsibility is to change that.
This will be a key topic of discussion at the 2022 National Advisory Group (NAG) Conference next month in La Jolla, Calif. I will have the privilege of moderating a panel with three outstanding retailers whose companies are known for their great culture. The panel will feature Tony El-Nemr of Nouria Energy, Tom Robinson of Robinson Oil and David Simendinger of Champlain Farms.
Before COVID, culture was the driving force behind the success at convenience store chains across the industry. The chains that weathered the COVID storm and continue to successfully navigate supply chain and labor issues, largely succeed because of the outstanding culture they have put in place. This is no accident, and it didn’t happen overnight.
There are common traits in winning businesses that contribute to their unique nature: Clear values, caring, loyalty, humility and deep commitment to community are just a few of them. These characteristics often directly affect decision-making in the company and the way it treats its employees, customers and suppliers.
However, some leadership teams attempt to create culture by acting as wordsmiths, spending untold hours carefully crafting vision, mission and values statements. That’s unfortunate because in the end, culture is not created by words plastered on the wall or carried around on laminated cards; but rather, culture is defined by actions on the ground.
It’s what leaders do — what they inspect, what they reject and what they reward — that ultimately shapes company culture.
A winning company culture is simple and emphasizes three areas: serving the customer, growing the business and developing employees. Culture can be consciously created by company leadership — and should be. As you work on your company culture, keep these five steps in mind:
Outline three or four guiding principles that define who you are as an organization. It’s the job of senior leadership to define in simple terms what your organization is all about.
Use the principles to guide every business discussion and decision going forward. Words are meaningless unless they spur new behavior. Once you have defined your guiding principles, use them to guide all of your business discussions and decisions.
Build the principles into all your people performance and management systems. The old rule is true: People tend to do what is inspected versus what’s expected. Simple words and good intentions are not enough. You need to make sure that your people and performance management systems measure and reward behaviors consistent with your guiding principles, and discourage if not punish the opposite. Leadership actions here are key: If employees see leaders act in accordance with principles, yet go unrewarded, or worse, see leaders defying principles and getting perks and promotions regardless, you will struggle. There must be consistency between what you say and what you do.
Create a leadership development experience that reinforces the behaviors and values consistent with the principles, and insist all senior leaders attend. You have to constantly reinforce your words with action. One way to do this is to create an experience-based leadership development program that reinforces the values and behaviors consistent with the guiding principles.
Expect resistance, but stay the course with passion and patience. Changing culture means changing people, and that takes time. Expect some cynicism, skepticism and resistance at first. With the NAG Conference, for example, over time, more and more retailers attended, including senior leaders, who came back to help facilitate later sessions, inspiring even more retailers to join future events.
I hope to see you at the NAG Conference next month, where we will discuss this topic in greater detail. To register or see the full agenda, visit NAGConvenience.com or contact me at [email protected].