Intentional Culture in the Workplace: A Leader’s Guide to Gaining a Competitive Advantage

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intentional culture and leadership competitive advantage

Sexual harassment and discrimination have been a long-standing issue in many industries. Although the #MeToo movement has helped to shed light on the problem, there’s much work to be done.

In fact, Americans are still very divided on whether enough progress has been made or questioning whether we have gone too far. Of course, the legislative intent on recent laws supporting change is to make American workplaces safe for all.

In the last few years, HR Acuity has found that roughly 56 percent of employees have experienced or witnessed inappropriate, illegal, or unethical behavior in their workplace. Additionally, the public is becoming increasingly unforgiving when it comes to organizations with reported harassment and discrimination.

As this recent Miami Community News article says, “Organizations face ever-increasing battles to preserve their brand and maintain their image in a positive light.”

As a leader, you face a very important question: how does one cultivate a workplace culture that intentionally minimizes and addresses inappropriate behavior?

The answer isn’t straightforward. Still, it has become exceedingly clear that a culture of respect and inclusivity is essential – both for the sake of employee safety and the overall company’s success.

If you want to stand a chance against the competition when it comes to brand image, sales, and recruitment, now is the time to foster an intentional culture and leadership tactics to preserve it. At the end of the day, maximizing success in any company starts on the inside.

Let’s talk about how to lead with purpose, as well as create a strong intentional company culture.

Understand What an Intentional Culture Looks Like

What Is Intentional Culture

In the briefest of descriptions, culture is the collection of values, beliefs, and actions that define your organization. It’s what separates your brand from others selling similar products or services, much like a personality sets different individuals apart.

Because cultures are intangible, it’s difficult to nail down what an intentional culture looks like within an organization. Perhaps our favorite definition comes from Forbes:

“An intentional culture continuously aligns and regulates an organization’s values, beliefs, and behaviors in support of the business strategy.”

In other words, to create an intentional culture, leaders must play an active role in the culture’s formation and continuous maintenance. Your company’s culture and leadership values need to be more than simple words printed on brochures – they need to live actively within your organization.

Why This Gives You a Competitive Advantage

Intentional Culture Competitive Advantage

Learning to align and regulate your beliefs won’t just lead to a more cohesive, healthier workplace – it will give you a competitive advantage that helps you attract clients and employees.

Roughly 46 percent of job seekers cite company culture as “very important” when deciding whether to apply to a company. Furthermore, executives that report their culture as “extremely” healthy are 1.5 times more likely to report average revenue growth of 15 percent or more over three years.

This brings us to our next question: how does an organization begin to understand, regulate, and maintain its workplace culture?

Identify and Define Your Guiding Principles

Workplace Microagression Is That Your Natural Hair

The only way to properly regulate your workplace culture is to understand the values and beliefs within it.

If we, as a society, are going to impact the prevalence of workplace challenges such as sexual discrimination and harassment, we need to be aware of the principles that contribute to (and combat) these issues.

Take time to think long and hard about your brand’s values. Where does “true north” fall on your organization’s compass? Is it where it should be, and if so, how are the leaders working to ensure the needle points to the right place?

Don’t just think about what your guiding principles should be – think about what they are. You may need some help in this department. We recommend turning to your team members for assistance.

Ask them questions such as:

  • What would you say our communication structure looks like?
  • How would you describe our brand’s vibe/personality?
  • What morals and values would you say our organization holds dear?

Talking to your employees and team members will help you paint a more accurate picture of your current workplace culture and leadership strengths (or weaknesses).

Analyze How Company Behaviors Align with Principles

Company Behavior Align With Principles

Once you’ve spent time talking about and defining your company’s cultural beliefs, it’s time to tackle the hardest part: looking at how company behaviors align with your culture. This is the key to turning a vague, weak culture into an intentional one.

Your workplace culture will drive your employees’ behavior. If you realize that your ideal culture and your company’s current behaviors aren’t lining up, then it’s time to purposefully bring everything into alignment.

For example, if one of your defined company values is “respect,” and many of your employees refuse to or hesitate to report instances of discrimination or harassment, that’s a problem.

Even worse, if your culture prioritizes respect and you see people yelling at each other, it’s time to rethink the way you regulate your workplace culture.

How to Learn About Employee (and Leader) Behavior

Investigate Complaints As They Happen

There are a few ways to assess discrepancies between your workplace culture and employee behavior. The first is observation. As a leader, it’s your job to take note of the behaviors, interaction patterns, and language that are present within your company.

Another tactic is to send out a written or digital (and perhaps anonymous) survey to your team or conduct focus group meetings to get a feel for the behavior you don’t see. Creating an intentional culture means understanding what’s misaligned in your current culture with the ideal culture, then working to fix it – and you can’t do that if discrimination, harassment, and other issues are hidden from the leadership team.

After you’ve conducted your research and observation, it’s time to bring in the C-suite members and other persons of power.

Make Plans for the Leadership Team

Make Plans For The Leadership Team

According to Gallup, team leaders and managers are the key transmitters of culture. If the leaders aren’t intentional, then the culture won’t be, either.

This is especially true when it comes to the treatment of employee-related issues such as sexual harassment and discrimination in the workplace. Many studies have emphasized that when leaders publicly address the seriousness of such incidents, the employees are more likely to view these matters with similar severity.

The importance of accountability in leadership cannot be understated – especially when it comes to cultures that have zero tolerance for inappropriate behaviors. An intentional culture must be owned by every leader within the organization – especially those in the C-suite and HR department.

Far too often, we see HR departments that turn a blind eye to misbehavior amongst executives, including instances of reported/unreported sexual misconduct. Just recently, the State of California accused the HR department of video game producer Activision of shredding documents related to ongoing sexual harassment.

If your company is going to embody a culture that doesn’t stand for harassment or discrimination, you need to start by developing a leadership team that holds everyone accountable.

So, How Do You Make That a Reality?

Seek Executive Coaching And Training

Communication is a big part of the intention. Leaders must be adept at articulating expectations and beliefs, both amongst themselves and with the rest of the organization.

However, strong communication is not a skill that comes naturally, but one that is honed and perfected over time. It’s up to C-suite members to cultivate the ability to lead by example and convey a brand’s ideal culture.

For many senior leaders, this means seeking executive coaching and training that helps them articulate expectations. This is arguably the best way to learn how to be an accountable, intentional leader that can shape thriving company culture.

Additionally, leaders hip coaching can help leaders nail down their tactics in regards to preventing toxic behaviors and promoting the ideal workplace culture. Anti-harassment and anti-discrimination training is a good place to start, but it’s also smart to dig deeper with sessions specifically geared toward the formation of workplace cultures.

Intentional company culture does start at the top – but in order for it to be truly effective, you’ll need everyone from the highest executive to the newest employee to understand and buy into the behaviors that result in the intended outcome. The more the leadership team lives out the intentional workplace culture, the easier it will be for everyone else to do so.

In Conclusion

Whether you’re talking about preventing sexual harassment or dealing with reported incidents of discrimination, your company’s culture is a crucial part of the equation. You’ll need to build a culture that’s intentional if you want employees and customers to feel safe, be productive, and want to give their best.

Struggling to nail down your company culture? Need help getting the executives or team managers on board? Talk to Strategy People Culture about scheduling a coaching session or EEO (equal employment opportunity) training.

Send us a message online or call 833 ROCK SPC.  We’re here to help you foster a culture that benefits everyone, as well as the necessary leadership skills to maintain it.




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Andy Botwin

Andy is a seasoned executive & leadership coach, independent workplace investigator, and trainer with more than 25 years of experience working with companies across various levels. He was Chief Human Resources Officer for a 1500+ person professional services firm and a Principal & Chief Human Resources Officer for a top national professional services firm where he drove culture change in the organization culminating in recognition on Fortune Magazine’s prestigious 100 Great Places to Work in America.