Five Pivots That Can Transform Company Culture

July 26, 2012 Darcy Jacobsen

Railway SwitchI’m reading a lot these days about how companies pivot to reinvent themselves and stay relevant and successful. Facebook and Apple seem to be the acknowledged kings of this, but other prominent pivoters include Amazon, Paypal, and Twitter, among others.

A pivot, for the uninitiated, is a shift in strategy that results in an entirely different business model than what was originally envisioned. It is a new way of thinking that changes the game. And it is also a useful way of thinking about company culture, which has as much impact on our success as any new product launch ever can.

So what are the pivots that HR can bring to the table to transform company culture and make it relevant and successful? Here are a few:

1. Thinking big? Think smaller first.

It’s easy to get caught up in trying to implement big changes all at once. Creating positive change isn’t about an enormous bonus check or a complete culture overhaul.

Pivot, and offer the organization and your managers small, incremental and iterative changes that slowly but surely move you in the direction you want to go.

2. Got values? Live values.

Any company worth its salt has company values. Some companies put them on plaques on the wall. Some recite them at meetings. But when the meeting is over, they all too often get shoved in a drawer and forgotten about.

Pivot, and find ways for your employees to understand, live and practice those values every day. Make them actionable. Make them practicable. Make them matter.

3. Need final accountability? Crowdsource everything.

Unless you’re working at Valve, your company has a hierarchy. The nature of hierarchy is to place decision making where responsibility is. At the top. However, studies show that the crowd is far smarter than any one individual.

Pivot, and use crowdsourcing where ever you can to eliminate the potential single points of failure. Leverage your strengths and draw from group expertise. Use it for feedback. Use it for idea generation. Use it for performance reviews.

4. Measuring culture by results? Begin with causes.

Results. Results. Results. We all have to show them. But sometimes we need to step further back and address the underlying causes. In the case of culture the root cause is always one thing: your people. People set the tone. People carry the message. And evidence overwhelmingly shows that the resulting culture–the engagement, values, and happiness of your workers–is also what leads to business results.

Pivot, and start thinking about how you can expend your energy on proactively cultivating people, and you will reap results. CEO of Yum! Brands David Novak put it like this: “Our business is people-capability first, then you satisfy customers, then you make money.”

5. Recognizing employees? Recognize valuable data.

One of the most mystifying things that crosses my desk is the fact some companies have implemented recognition programs but are still not tracking their employee recognition data. (Many companies don’t even have a good sense of what they are spending on recognition, which is also mind-boggling.) But tracking data is not just about balance sheets–it is about insights.

Pivot, and leverage the valuable data that recognition programs can create. Use it to gain deep insights into your workers and organization, including how your employees work together, where your talent outliers are, and how well your corporate values are thriving or floundering.

Most of these pivots may not be as surprising or dramatic as the pivots of Scribd or Katy Perry, but they can make as significant a difference to your business, in the long run. Give them a try and see for yourself!

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