Jess Graham, M.S.
bSci21 Contributing Writer
In software development, you may find a fast-paced, future-focused group of innovators. In health care, you may find process-oriented, caring employees who are more concerned with individual patient wellness.
Having the right culture drives results, because employees are engaging in the behaviors that are aligned with the needs of the business. In organizations that have a clear cultural strategy, this alignment is purposeful, and can unite everyone around a common goal.
Developing a strategy to deliberately shape the culture of an organization or team can seem daunting, especially without a framework to work from – but getting started is easy if you begin with a clear and thorough definition of culture.
Culture is defined by
patterns of behavior,
that are encouraged or discouraged,
by people, processes and systems
(purposefully or inadvertently),
(Aubrey Daniels International)
This definition, which comes from behavioral science, gives us a practical formula for understanding and therefore influencing culture. Developing a strategy begins with reverse-engineering this description: if culture is the patterns of behavior that are encouraged or discouraged within an organization, we should start by asking:
- What are the patterns of behavior we want to see in our organization?
- In other words, what is our cultural vision?
- What is the current culture of our organization – what values do we exhibit with our actions and choices?
- Which patterns of behavior are desired for the organization, and which are most likely to result in business success?
- What business challenges will we face in the next 5-10 years, and what type of culture do we need to withstand those demands? (SWOT analysis is useful here)
- Are there specific departments that should have additional function-specific characteristics? (i.e. HR, sales or production teams might have elements of their own vision)
Once we’ve determined our current state and what we need to work towards, we start working on how to get there.
- What actions need to be taken to encourage the behavior we want to see?
- How will our leaders support and encourage the desired behaviors?
- How do we design our processes and systems to drive the right behaviors? (i.e. updated IT tools or mobile hardware can promote efficiency)
- In what ways could people, processes and systems inadvertently discourage the behavior we want to see? (i.e. long burdensome approval processes can prevent quick decision making)
- What is the speed of cultural change that’s required for our business to be successful?
Now that we have an action plan, we need to put strategies in place to accelerate those actions, maintain traction, and make sure the change lasts.
- How do we sustain these variables over time, to make the desired behavioral patterns part of ‘how we do things around here’?
- What touch points are already in place that we could use for education or support of our cultural vision? (i.e. regular management meetings, new hire onboarding, training courses)
- What recognition and reward strategies (social, tangible, or monetary) need to be developed to support these cultural patterns over the long term?
- What actions will the individual management team members set for themselves to encourage the desired culture of their departments? Are they aligned?
For an expert approach, employee-level programs can even be created to encourage individuals to reinforce the culture with their peers, through informal recognition, or a more formal approach similar to behavioral safety observation programs.
This simple cultural strategy process works for any type or size of team, and can be used by any type of leader to develop their own team culture – because regardless of the circumstances, the principles of behavior will stay the same!
Gomez, F. (2017). Building a Culture that Supports Your Values. Aubrey Daniels International. https://www.aubreydaniels.com/sites/default/files/Building%20a%20Culture%20that%20Supports%20Values_v2.pdf
Jess Graham, M.S., is an experienced business person, and formally trained behavior analyst who has been creating results in business through behavioral science for 15 years. She believes everyone deserves to work for, and be served by, businesses that are successful and healthy, and is especially passionate about helping others learn the behavioral technology to make this happen.
Jess has dedicated her career to making a positive impact through influencing workplace culture, leadership development, and service excellence, to affect business results and make a difference in the quality of the lives of employees and their clients. Through applying the science of behavior and continuous improvement, she has contributed to the success of change strategies in a wide range of businesses, including manufacturing, mental health, education and customer service settings. In coaching leaders at all levels, and sharing the science of behavior with thousands of individuals, she has loved seeing firsthand the positive effects of implementing behavior-based strategies in any type of workplace.
She earned her Bachelor of Science in Psychology from Western Michigan University, and Master of Science in Applied Behavior Analysis from Florida State University. After 4 years of living and consulting abroad in Australia, Jess brought her skills and experience back to the corporate sector in the US and is currently enjoying an Organizational Development role in a Fortune Global 100 company. You can contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.