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Five Easy Tips for Improving your Internal Organizational Culture

What is your sense of the culture of your organization? Is it mission-focused, optimistic about succeeding and engaged in tackling difficult issues with an anxiousness to solve them?

Or has it become a territorial, negative, bureaucratic enterprise where every opportunity is met with “we could never do that” excuses that roll off the tongues of even the most senior officials?

If your organization is the latter, do you want to work in such an environment or do you want to help change the culture for the better.

Here are some inexpensive ways to begin to make the culture more positive and lift the productivity and impact of the entire enterprise. It takes time for organizational culture to evolve, so don’t expect a quick turnaround. But the number of team members that want to become part of the “culture change team” as you execute these simple and inexpensive ideas will exponentially increase over time. The vast majority of individuals working with you want to be successful and contribute in a meaningful way, everyday. They just need a bold and passionate visionary who nudges them ever forward.

Creating a more positive culture is not easy. But it is immensely rewarding. Here are five that have successfully worked for complex organizations:

1. Keep you mission front and center with your team

It probably won’t shock you that most people within your organization don’t know what the mission of the enterprise is or just have a vague recollection. It may be that the organization is old in years; it may be that there has not been a clear mission since the organization’s inception (create one first before implementing these steps), or it could be that the organization has changed and no one has clearly articulated what the new, emerging focus is to every team member.

Put the mission in front of every employee where they are forced to see it. Put it on their computer as a screen saver; put it above the elevator button; put it on the walls of conference rooms; put it on the refrigerator in the break room or lunch area. Walk through the physical space of your organization and look for space to post the mission in the most obvious places so everyone one will be see it, no matter where they look. Make the signs or posters the same, professional and appropriate. Announce the mission visibility project so the team understands why they will see it everywhere inside the organization. You will be surprised how well just this tip will be received.

2. Use your walls to visualize customers or program recipients

With so much everyday work going on, we all sometimes forget our customers or those who will benefit from the success of the organization. I have to admit, I came by this tip by accident when the National Beer Wholesalers Association moved into its new headquarters in Alexandria, Virginia. We suddenly have lots of white space on newly painted walls and only a hodgepodge of pictures from our previous location. So we asked our members for something interesting they could send us (and we would frame) about their business. Each framed piece would have a brass plate indicating which business the beer “art” came from. Here’s the unexpected impact – everyday as you walk through the halls, you are reminded of the people who pay the dues to make the organization run. We thought more about our members and what challenges they faced everyday. We were proud fo their businesses and inspired to serve them better. It was so successful on the organization’s morale that I launched a similar effort later as CEO of the National Association of Broadcasters that had the similar positive effect on the staff. Our recent NAB hires who were not familiar with the great legacy of radio and television broadcasting had more ‘bounce in their step’ while walking down the hallways and worked harder to keep this valued media at the forefront of American society. Instead of buying expensive office works, hang items that reflect those who pay the freight or those who will be benefit from the organization’s efforts. Your team members will contribute more and be more engaged as they will be constantly reminded of whom and what the team is were working for every time anyone walks down the hall.

3. Ask each team member – “How can we meet our mission?

We need to ask more of team members. You will have staff that has worked for years within your organization. Now that they are more aware of the mission and its beneficiaries, ask them what can be done to meet or exceed the mission and its goals. You will get some thoughtful and extremely helpful answers. And you will find your team members will become more engaged by just being asked for their opinion.

One caveat – communicate that you are looking for ways to meet the mission under the current budget circumstance (not getting or spending more money). Otherwise, you will get considerable initial feedback that the solution to meeting the mission is just to spend more money. With rare exception, organizations do not have a money problem. They have a focus problem. So use your communication to collect ideas and engage your team.

4. Make knowing the mission an important part of the annual performance review

Nothing incentivizes team members more than knowing their annual performance review will be based upon their knowledge of the organization’s mission. At the National Association of Broadcasters, we inserted a line on every job description and in the job expectation that the individual would understand and carryout the mission of the organization. We also added a component to the review for the individual, their peers, and their supervisor to rate the individual’s understanding and focus on obtaining the mission. For the few individuals who did not quite grasp the importance of mission, this tip got and kept their attention! You are required to conduct annual reviews, and should have job descriptions, so this becomes a great opportunity to keep the mission in front of them – on something they care about.

5. Create a mission ‘game show’ to encourage team participation and interaction

You own imagination will come up with dozens of different ways to keep the mission ‘top of mind’ with your team. It is serious business, but be sure to make it fun. Even the most hard-nosed, metrics focused, academic in your organization likes fun! Use a full staff conference meeting as a place to host a short ‘game show’ on the mission. Award those that know the answers a $5.00 Starbucks card (people think you are giving them the world when they earn a card by answering a question or two).

One step further – At the NAB, we had a common problem of team members not knowing each other and had many silos in the organization. To help overcome these problems, we gave random staff the $5 cards and they would award them to individuals who addressed them correctly by their first name (similar to a secret shopper or secret Santa). Within a matter of months, and probably at a cost of less than $100, everyone got to know each other much, much better and, again, had fun doing it. Try this tip if you are in an organization where individuals walk through the halls with their heads down and avoid eye contact.

Why is this so important?

People want to succeed and be part of something that has a purpose. By keeping the mission ‘top of mind’ you will find productivity higher, team moral better, and your organization will get more done (and be a better place to work).

These tips won’t cost you much. But they will have a dramatic return for you, your team, the organization, and the purpose for which you spend much of your professional life.

Importantly, be sure to have an appropriate level of fun during this important and critical process.

David Rehr is part of the GovLoop Featured Blogger program, where we feature blog posts by government voices from all across the country (and world!). To see more Featured Blogger posts, click here.

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More important than any of these is to instill integrity–as workability–into your organization, so that people honor their word and operate in ways that support excellence.