As a business leader I’m a proponent for developing a positive culture within the organizations I work for.
An ideal culture for me is one where employees are seen as teammates, everyone is included in cultivating ideas for making the business better, and people are just generally happy to come to work day in and day out. So, given my passion for affecting positive change, I was psyched to hear that MKS&H’s organizational consulting practice, MKS&H People, developed an online Culture Assessment. This new tool is a unique, straightforward litmus test for assessing the nature of your organization‘s culture based on whether it has a “Want To” vs. “Have To” mentality.
Simply put, the Culture Assessment is an interactive survey that evaluates the current culture of an organization on a "Want-To/Have-To" scale. The test recognizes that cultures aren’t strictly “Want To” and “Have To” and shows where they stand in a spectrum from green to red, with red being the negative area representing a ‘Have To” culture. A perfect example of the mindset in a “Have-To” culture is when you hear a lot of statements such as “it is not my assignment, I’m just doing it because I have to.” Overall, teammates are not committed and they’re not involved. In contrast, people in a “Want-To” culture arrive ready to work, they’re eager to get started, and they show genuine interest and enthusiasm for what’s going on that day. The benefit of pinpointing a culture’s attributes on the “Have-To/Want-To” scale is that it enables business leaders to better understand how to approach and influence their workforce in a positive manner.
Even without an assessment, good leaders are in tune with their organization’s culture, and usually have a “gut” feeling about whether it is a “Have-To” vs. a “Want-To” culture. Regardless of how well you know your organization, sometimes your greatest cultural attributes appear when you have a “catastrophe” in your business or organization. By catastrophe, I mean a situation that that puts the company under pressure and forces it to either rise to the occasion, or fail. This situation is the true test to discovering where you sit on the “Want To/Have To” spectrum.
Case in point, the warehouse inventory tracking system (for the innovative consumer products company I worked for) crashed right at the kickoff of our peak season – which is when we distributed our leading seasonal product. Almost needless to say, this is when we made the majority of our sales for the year for that product line. It wasn’t the time for a holdup of that magnitude. We thought we could fix the problem in-house, but after a day of tinkering, we ditched our efforts and called in a specialist. The specialist reviewed the system and gave us the diagnosis that it would take approximately four weeks to fix the problem. This was horrible news. We had over 4 million pieces of seasonal product boxed, sitting, and unidentifiable. There was no way we could fulfill the orders in the queue and ship them out on time…unless we rallied the troops.
Having decided that drastic measures were in order, we brought the entire office to the warehouse. By everyone, I mean everyone. From the CEOs, middle managers to administrative people…everyone. Most of these teammates were used to sitting behind a desk, in a state-of-the art office, and were responsible for a 45-50 hour work week. The warehouse, cold, full of industrial forklifts, floor to ceiling shelves, and oversized dusty boxes, was obviously not their normal work environment. The work we were going to ask them to do was not required per their job descriptions, but it was necessary for the company to continue to be successful.
As leaders of the company, we gave an inspiring, win one for the "Gipper" speech. It made them aware of the challenges that we were facing, and the action that was needed to make it through the peak of busy season with a botched inventory system. We asked people to sign-up and give when they could. We knew we had a strong team oriented office, but the result was remarkable. We actually had to turn people away!
For four weeks, teammates rotated night shifts in the warehouse (6 p.m. – 4 a.m.), tirelessly breaking down the thousands of boxes of product and repacking them to meet our clients’ orders. Oddly enough, I knew how to drive a forklift, so I volunteered my skills nightly and hoisted pallets off of shelves with the regular warehouse crew. This physical work was exhausting, but it didn’t break our culture’s spirit - in fact, it only enhanced it. I have many fond memories of late nights of the on-duty group breaking out in song or lively debates around current sports team’s standings.
In hindsight, why did this work? Why did people rally together for the company? Why did they take on extra responsibilities and give-up their personal time to help? I think the result starts with the core principles that we adhered to when building the company and culture. Our core principles permeated every niche and process of the organization - they were the guiding light of our strategy. As leaders we lived into these principles. We made sure that: people were given autonomy, responsibility and resources; the bar was set high and expectations were clearly laid out; individuals were challenged by the work that was assigned to them; the environment fostered friction to inspire new ideas; everyone lived into the servant leadership philosophy; and, that our performance management system was in place to help teammates achieve, not to grade their success.
The results spoke for themselves; we were ranked as the 9th fastest growing company in the country by Inc. Magazine in 2004. But, the overwhelmingly result was that our teammates stepped up and delivered. The entire team took ownership and responsibility...what could have been sheer disaster proved to be a beautiful accident. The way our team overcame was inspiring and served as encouraging evidence that we had done something right.
However, I understand many of us business leaders don’t have the opportunity to start a culture from scratch. Often times, you inherit it, along with the challenge to mold it into the vision set forth by the organization. This undertaking takes persistence and commitment. A “Want-To” culture doesn’t happen overnight, and you shouldn’t wait for a “situation” to occur to figure out what cultural attributes your company needs to improve upon. Instead, you should take the time today to be introspective and analyze your organization to gain insight into what’s going well and where you have opportunities to invest in the right approaches to catalyze positive change.