Redefining Culture To Improve Bottom Line

Redefining Culture To Improve Bottom Line

Glenn Hasteadt, IT Director at County of Onslow, North Carolina

Glenn Hasteadt, IT Director at County of Onslow, North Carolina

As technology leaders, it is easy to focus on, well… the technology.  Cyber Security, Disaster Recover, and Network infrastructure vie for attention with Budget numbers and KPIs from the service desk; It is easy to lose sight of our most important asset: the people. Defining and creating a culture can take a back seat to the crisis du jour. This happens even when of you recognize the importance of a great culture and how it can make everything else easier. It’s hard to spend valuable strategic planning time on soft, difficult to measure culture objectives. But I would like to emphasize how important an excellent culture is, and ‘the great resignation’ that we are hearing about is proof that our office cultures may not be as great as we think. 

How do you define a ‘great’ culture and what benefits does it bring? 

This question is different for every organization and is partially defined by internal and external needs. The customer view of a bank is significantly different than it’s view of the company that makes technology; the same can be true internally as your ITS team may be required to drive innovation while the finance team should bring more stability.Other factors that may shape your view of the necessary culture may be more general like a need for engagement, inclusion, creativity, collaboration, or simply to boost morale. Whatever the drivers are, you must define what the ideal culture will look like in the end. 

But isn’t my ‘culture’ driven by the people on the team?

Somewhat, but it is mostly driven by you the leader.You read that correctly, the culture is driven by your actions, words, toneandtenor of your communications, body language and processes. It is not just modeling either; your words and actions send cues to the team on how they behave, work, and interact with others. Think about it:  If you have a leader that is constantly looking for what folks are doing wrong, then the instinct of the employee is to hide or blame others for mistakes andkeep their head down, do what they are told to do the way they are told to do it. Now imagine a leader that focuses on what people are doing right and treats mistakes as part of the learning process; you see employees that are willing to try new ideas and go the extra mile more frequently. Because people bring a different version of themselves based on the culture, you may not really know what kind of people you have on your team. Creating a great environment will allow you to better understand your team members strengths, weaknesses, and drive.

"A great team is built in a great culture, and a great culture is built by a leader who focuses their attention on how they impact that culture"

This sounds weird and I don’t even know where to begin on ‘defining’ my culture.

There are a couple of standard concepts that are present in any great culture. To begin with you need well communicated objectives that are rooted in your mission and values that drive towards a vision. If you can tie your values and mission to a team member’s personal convictions orbeliefs, you can ignite a passion.  The team must also trust you as a leader.  There are many great articles on how to build trust,so I won’t attempt to recreate them here except to say that trust requires support.  Get your team the tools, training, and opportunity they need while shouldering the blame and passing the praise onto them. Ask them about their career ambitions and do what you can to help, be empathetic to their struggles while also being their biggest cheerleader when they succeed. Build emotional safety by valuing input, shutting down judgmental behavior, give ‘permission’ to disagree (“I think this but I’m not entirely certain this is correct, tell me what I’m missing”), and appreciating specifically instead of generally (“the way you helped that customer was great! You got them the info they needed quickly and even managed to put a smile on their face after they arrived frustrated.  Thanks!”)

This ooey gooey stuff is great, but we deal in dollars and cents.

True, we’re not here to just help our team, we are getting paid because we have a job to do; the question is how effective do you want to be at doing it?  Teams led by the prior model of authoritative leadership are led somewhat by fear, which will never lead to the engaged team leaders are clamoring for.  Diverse teams won’t add perceived value because without emotional safety, inclusivity will never be realized. Innovation will stagnate as employees fear the spotlight failure brings.  If the question is ‘can we lead our teams without a great culture’ the answer is a simple yes.  A better question is why would you?  You will miss out on great ideas, exceptional customer service, employees that aren’t looking for another job, and teams that are actually happy at work leading to less sick time and less unhealthy conflict.  Do we still track performance?  Absolutely, but perhaps we track different metrics; Customer satisfaction vs number of tickets closed or project status vs lines of code written.  A great team is built in a great culture, and a great culture is built by a leader who focuses their attention on how they impact that culture.

Is it difficult at first?  Sure, but like most things it gets easier over time and like any relationship it will take time to build. What is important is your commitment to the goals and more importantly to the team you are tasked to care for.


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