Four Ways You Can Close the Corporate Culture Chasm

By Joseph Grenny

In yesterday’s Advisor, Joseph Grenny, cofounder of VitalSmarts, revealed some of his company’s research into the culture gap between leaders and employees. Today Grenny presents four strategies for bridging this chasm and fostering better communication between employees at all levels within the organization.

So, how can leaders begin to open up the lines of communication with employees? Here are four strategies they can take to start a candid discussion about their culture chasm:

  • Understand the business case. Before leaders set off to change the company culture, they must be clear about the business reason for doing so. The worst thing they can do is implement a feel-good strategy. This has little impact and creates cynicism among employees. There are hard, measurable reasons for changing the culture, and leaders must articulate them before they embark on their journey.
  • Focus on vital behaviors. Leaders can’t change 10 to 15 behaviors in a company—they can really only focus on a vital 2 or 3. Pick the behaviors that will have the biggest impact on performance and stick with them. Google recently completed a comprehensive study to find the link between culture and team performance. The study, dubbed Project Aristotle, revealed the key vital behaviors of perfect teams—teams that combine superior innovation with best-in-class execution. The two norms that made the biggest difference in the Google research were Active Participation and Psychological Safety. In the best teams, members spoke up and participated. And this participation came as a result of feeling welcome, valued, and secure within the team.
  • Listen deeply. Before leaders can change the culture, they must know where they stand with their employees. The best way to do this isn’t through a survey administered by outsiders. Rather, they should vulnerably engage with employees who know best. Pair up and meet with groups of 8 to 10 employees. Spend at least an hour asking open-ended questions like, “What advice would you give a friend if they came to work here?”
  • Take action. Listening creates expectations. Once employees take a risk to share their perceptions, they start to watch to see if leaders were really listening or just checking off a box. They want to see evidence. Leaders should pick a couple of valued and visible concerns and address them quickly. This builds trust in leaders’ sincerity to make longer-term changes that may involve the employees themselves changing their behavior.