Six Steps to Stop the Daily Firefighting and Design a Fireproof Culture for Your Company

Recently I had a client call me in a panic. He had just received a call from a lawyer representing an employee complaining about a hostile work environment. After calming the client down and gaining the facts, I helped him pull together a clear strategy that included responding to media calls. This was a fairly new client, and I knew after the second meeting with his team that something in the organization wasn’t flowing. He had complained about turnover and how positions were hard to fill. He also had some not-so-favorable reviews on Glassdoor.

Although we had begun a culture inquiry to find out what was and wasn’t working, we had to delay it. We had to address the fire, then go back and get to the bottom of not only the harassment claim but the turnover problem and more. In the end, we agreed that management had to make changes. A problem executive had been with the firm for years; he believed and acted as though he had entitlement and protection around his behavior. The company was waiting for his retirement instead of dealing with the obvious.

Sound familiar?

Maybe your company hasn’t had this specific problem, but I’m sure you have experienced “fires” in your organization, too. Daily.

As soon as you walk in the door, someone in the hallway or elevator hits you with a burning question before you even make it to your office. Then, the phone messages left after your late evening at work contain more mini-fires. And you probably received some smoldering emails before you arrived to work, too.

Of course, none of these hot items are about strategic initiatives to move the company forward, but rather they are sparks between two of your team members, burning bushes about open positions you can’t fill with qualified people or the smoking “must have” last minute meetings because of poor communication. In today’s world, fires are also started outside our buildings by the news — big companies caught in crossfires, ethics or harassment.

Like it or not, if you are in management, you are a firefighter. I get calls from anxious executives asking for help: Do I provide harassment training? Public relations training? Investigations? Just as you need a fire extinguisher at every door, elevator landing or stairwell to protect your building, you must have a fire-resistant strategy in place to protect your culture or your peace of mind will go up in flames!

What makes up a fire-resistant building and culture?

Fire-resistant building

Fire resistant culture

Site layoutPhysical building layout, space
Ignition resistant roofLeadership team
Ember resistant exteriorCommunication to internal and external audiences, driving image
Window protectionYour individual contributors, your team
DoorsBoundaries in values, mission, vision
Louvers and ventsDay-to-day actions, strategies, tactics, training and development
Special equipment Strategic, critical and design-type thinking

The fire-resistant culture begins with a clear vision and values; and unshakable, relentless bravery to keep those boundaries clear, solid and unwavering. If you can’t see the culture you envisioned, then you can’t design culture.

The opportunity to design a company culture should be a time of joy and excitement. Even if you are rebuilding on an existing culture foundation, your team can create a new space that better meets your changing environment and needs. Take advantage of new fire-resistant innovations and efficiencies. Proactively working through this will not only protect your culture but can produce stand-alone power — a real competitive edge. The decision you and your team make today and every day will impact your company culture for a long time. That affects you, your team members, your families, your customers and your board members.

Six Steps to Design Your Fire-Resistant Culture

  1. Intention- Define your company culture Is it one of communication, innovation, results, agility, entrepreneurship, collaboration, feedback, accountability? You must decide what sets you apart.
  2. Measure – How will you measure success? What does culture success look like, feel like, smell like, taste like? How does it sound?
  3. Process – What does your workflow look like? Provide clear expectations when you hire and then get the hell out of the way and let your skilled and behaviorally aligned team members do their jobs.
  4. Accountability – Boundary-setting must be clear and agreed to by all team members. If feedback is a part of your culture, then when conflict arises, don’t run to HR but instead talk it out, work it out and come to an agreement.
  5. Collaboration – How will you work together? When are you on individual assignments vs. team projects? How often do you meet one-on-one vs. in department or division meetings? Who sets the agendas? Who keeps everyone on track? Communication and involvement with the entire team are imperative.
  6. Tactics – What are the daily routines for you and your members? How will your activities keep you on track?

Celebrate successes daily; give those pats on the backs. Motivate to the behavioral needs of each team member.

For More Information

Shelley D. Smith is a best-selling author, consultant, founder and CEO of Premier Rapport consulting firm. Her 35+ years of experience has earned her the reputation as the creator and implementer of the Culture Inquiry in businesses all along the East Coast and beyond. Her culture approach includes four phases: inquiry, analysis, creations, and curation.

A highly sought-after speaker and business culture inquiry consultant, Shelley asks tough questions to hone in on pain points and areas of opportunity for companies to grow. The most recent of her five books, How to Avoid Culture Big Fat Failures (BFF), has rattled and disrupted corporate America. Numerous C-Suite executives have tapped Shelley for her sharp insight and professional recommendations to shape the culture they’ve envisioned to increase profitability, decrease employee turnover and retain top talent.

Find Shelley’s advice and wisdom in various publications, podcasts, DisruptHR events, SHRM events and culture conferences, as well as her website, PremierRapport.com


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