Compliance Isn’t The Culture You Want

I had great conversation with one of our HR leads the other day. It was about the establishment of culture. I’ve always been a huge advocate that culture is at the core of any successful company and at the demise of unsuccessful companies. One of my favorite books is Built to Last by Jim Collins.

One of things we agreed on in our conversation was, as leaders in a company the most difficult piece of establishing or changing a culture is the execution. It was in this discussion that it occurred to me. A true culture is one based on CHOICE not on COMPLIANCE. This is a very, very thin line.

As leaders we desire particular behaviors with in our organizations. We embrace these behaviors as critical to developing the working environment to success. The difficulty comes in how we are able to achieve them.

Getting our employees to comply with our expectations for behavior is NOT a successful culture. Although our employees may be behaving as desired, they are doing so out of compliance. Compliance lacks choice with ownership. corporateculture

It’s not compliance we are looking for in culture. It’s acceptance and ownership that the behaviors requested are good for the employee AND the company. This “opt-in” approach can not be mandated it can only be influenced.

The end game in changing or developing a new culture isn’t; are the employees behaving the way we want but rather have they bought into the behaviors and believe for themselves that those behaviors are the appropriate behaviors to demonstrate. In other words, are they complying with your demands or have they chosen for themselves?

I get it, these are very close, BUT the outcomes and execution strategies are very different. If you want compliance, then firing or moving out those that don’t comply is a critical component of the culture and the execution strategy. There are substantial punitive actions for those who don’t behave accordingly. In a culture where behaviors are derived out of compliance, the culture is intricately pinned to leadership. The culture then becomes dependent on leaderships ability to hold the employees accountable. When culture is created through compliance it is never owned by the general employees therefore is rarely reinforced by the employees. It is a top down culture.

A choice driven culture is created through influence, positive reinforcement, demonstration, not be edict. The execution strategy of an opt-in requires participation and acceptance of the entire organization. It starts with the executives demonstrating the behaviors themselves. EX: you don’t say your culture is about operational efficiency, yet have a policy that executives get suites when they travel. You don’t say you are a data centric organization but ignore the data when a sales person uses it effectively to explain why their number can NOT be achieved or why a product can not make the launch date.

Developing an opt-in culture starts with consistent demonstration of the desired behaviors from the top down. Creating an opt-in culture requires constant and expressive celebration and reward of the people who most exhibit the desired behaviors. If your company desires risk taking then those that do must be celebrated, regardless of success or failure.

Execution of an opt-in culture is much like social media. It takes heavy engagement, especially from leadership. It requires continuous feedback. It requires use of viral communication tools so the success stories can be easily shared and moved throughout the company. It requires more reward than punishment. It requires celebration.

How do you know if you have an opt-in culture? You’ll know if the employees become the owners, propagating amongst themselves with little to no involvement from leadership and there will be a plethora of stories of heroism; stories of employees going above and beyond to build and preserve THEIR culture.

How will you know if you have a compliance culture. You have a compliance culture if more of your time is spent punishing. If there are few rank and file leaders promoting it and there are few if any stories of heroism circulating the company.

It’s not what people do that makes the culture, it’s why they do it.

Don’t get me wrong. Compliance is a culture, but is it the culture you want?