Your credit union’s culture has its foundation in the simple rules or norms that influence the thoughts, emotions and behaviors of your employees in various workplace situations. Norms can become established unconsciously or consciously, and they may be both expressed and unspoken. They accumulate over time and lead to patterns of behavior that can either support or frustrate the effective pursuit of your strategy. They can become part of your culture through leadership attention and action. Or, if leaders pay insufficient attention to culture, norms could form through habits that arise spontaneously through employee interactions that occur without the direction even the knowledge of leadership. Unfortunately, norms occurring spontaneously often result in behavior that is counter to what senior management knows the organization needs to succeed.
The C-suite must continually focus on strategy; strategy is fundamental to the operations of business. Yet, one might argue that leadership’s primary job is to manage the culture. A superb business strategy without the culture to support it is a fool’s errand. Effective leaders have the unique ability to understand the dynamics of culture and change it when the situation demands in order for culture to support strategy. Culture and leadership can be seen as two sides of the same coin.
This is all much easier said than done, especially since most of the powerful drivers of culture are unseen and regularly unstated. We can see behaviors, but the forces that cause the behaviors usually aren’t visible, and norms are at the heart of behavior. Norms guide and constrain employee conduct. Leadership must understand this dynamic, and it may require a third party to help management do so. An impartial advisor can analyze the situation and discern the norms that underpin behaviors. They are uniquely positioned to gather accurate data through observation and confidential employee interviews and questionnaires.
Senior leaders can use information about the status of the culture to assure that the norms guiding behavior grow out of, and are linked to, organizational values. Astute leaders strategically communicate behavior that is aligned with organizational values through their example, their acknowledgements, through monetary and non-monetary reward systems and more. Continual reinforcement occurs when management follows leaderships’ path in explicitly communicating values and acceptable behaviors. In time, the values-based norms directing behaviors become second-nature habits that reflect the underlying beliefs and values of the credit union.
When this healthy organizational dynamic permeates the workplace, it supports employee engagement and productivity, which leads to organizational accomplishment and success. People see the results of their efforts and feel good about it. Turnover reduces as people want to stay. The healthy culture becomes an attractor for talent. When prospective employees decide on whether a place is a fit for them, they are gauging the culture by intuiting how people feel about the organization. For new employees, the onboarding process itself further helps people understand the values affecting acceptable behavior. Adherence to these healthy norms creates a zone of successful conduct. A common language is established; and shared experience accumulates around the value-based norms. All-in-all, making this happen can be thought of as leadership’s primary job.