Using Culture as a Competitive Advantage

Creating the right culture for your organization can be tough in these days of uncertainty and remote work. In a new report, Heather Gordon of Summit Leadership Partners offers some direction for helping your company navigate these choppy waters and gain a step up on the competition.

April 28, 2022 – The pandemic has not slowed growth for many executive search firms, their clients, or the markets they serve.  According to Summit Leadership PartnersHeather Gordon, at the end of 2021 many of her conversations with chief executive officers and C-suite executives across private and public companies revealed they were all struggling with the same problem: building culture in an unpredictable and likely remote world.  “They were either trying to determine how to create the organizational culture they need to scale or maintain the culture they have during rapid growth in a disseminated working environment,” she said. “It seems that the external world, pandemic, and politics keep evolving and with these complexities, there isn’t a clear path on building and maintaining the right culture needed for growth.”

To aid in these challenges, Ms. Gordon offers some practical recommendations to help you use your organizational culture as your competitive advantage even in unprecedented times:

Become Purposeful With Your Culture

“The old adage that culture eats strategy for lunch seems to enter a new level of complexity when that culture is being formed and shaped while everyone is working and eating lunch at home in their comfy pants,” said Ms. Gordon. “How does one create culture when employees are remote and not able to see the banners, vibrancies, and signals of the culture? Additionally, if a company is using the hybrid approach with some working in office and others remote, it introduces the intricacy of having different understandings of the culture.”

“To overcome this, senior leaders need to be more purposeful in deciding on the culture they want for their organization,” she said. “Management teams should discuss what they expect of the culture, and then ensure it is reflected in the decisions they make, including what is recognized, celebrated, and what should not be tolerated. To get the pulse of your organization, you can survey for employee feedback and giving employees the opportunity to share what is and is not working in the current environment.”

Heather Gordon is a principal consultant with Summit Leadership Partners. She is a trusted leadership advisor and coach with experience aligning business and human capital strategies across numerous industries. Combining assessment and data-backed insights with organizational expertise, she has consulted senior executives on areas such as leadership impact, culture transformation, employee engagement, customer strategy and growth, and team performance. At Summit Leadership Partners, Ms. Gordon previously served as the director of consulting products and services where she consulted high growth companies as well as created new products and services. She holds a doctorate in organizational science. 

Summit helps companies by providing its Organization Growth Diagnostic (OGD) that helps companies understand strengths and improvement areas across seven performance drivers, including culture. “Companies that don’t do the deep work required to rethink and purposefully transmit the company culture may find their performance and results suffer,” Ms. Gordon said.

Consider Culture Implications for Bringing People (Back) to the Office

“While I can’t provide direct guidance to you regarding the medical gravity of these decisions, I do want to emphasize the intentionality of when you bring people to the office,” said Ms. Gordon. “First and foremost, when people are in the office, it should be a space where it provides employees with social connection, impromptu learning, and innovative and spontaneous collaboration. Research shows it takes three times the number of virtual interactions to create the same interaction as one face to face. It is important to be purposeful about who will be in the office at the same time or the benefits are lost. Additionally, make sure those in the office are not only from the same team. Recent work in the field of social network analysis shows that innovation occurs when individuals from different, disparate teams have an opportunity to interact with each other and bridge connections.”

Use 2 Cultural Elements to Aid with Hiring and Keeping Your Talent

The war for talent is real- and with employees now having greater options to change companies while not having to physically move, it has created a myriad of potential talent headaches. “Not only are companies having to act quickly in the hiring of high potential talent, but they also have substantial fears of losing that talent once they are hired,” said Ms. Gordon. “My advice is to keep two behaviors at the top of your leadership’s agenda: empathy and understanding.”

  • Empathy was something we saw during the beginning and middle stages of the pandemic. Leaders and companies who were successful during this time led with empathy and consideration. Employees are now entering a time when they are expected to go “back to normal” but not everyone is ready. Make sure you have your leaders check in with their teams frequently and provide options and support that can help them during this transition.
  • Understanding begins with 1) knowing the market trends, 2) knowing your current and future talent needs, and 3) being connected with the primary drivers in the attraction and retention of your company’s talent, in particular your culture. If you can’t readily answer these three questions, get your management team to focus on getting the knowledge and discuss the gaps and how you will address them.

“While there isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach to how you think about your culture, the context we are entering in 2022 requires leaders to be more purposeful about defining, refining, and measuring their culture to ensure they have the competitive advantage needed to successfully grow,” said Ms. Gordon.

Summit Leadership Partners advises boards, investors, CEOs and senior leaders on scaling business through talent and organization assessment, coaching, executive team effectiveness, leadership development and organization performance improvement. Summit Leadership Partners has office in Austin, TX; Charlotte, NC; Dallas; Denver, CO; Nashville, TN; New York; and San Francisco, CA. Summit was founded in 2014 by Dan Hawkins, a global executive and CHRO with a passion for enabling growth-oriented companies and business leaders to scale and improve performance. “Probably 65 to 75 percent of our business is with private equity and venture capital investors,” said Mr. Hawkins.

Related: The Importance of Culture in Driving Growth, Performance & Value

Contributed by Scott A. Scanlon, Editor-in-Chief; Dale M. Zupsansky, Managing Editor; and Stephen Sawicki, Managing Editor – Hunt Scanlon Media

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