The Five Guiding Principles of Transforming Company Culture

Companies like Cisco, Facebook, Google and IBM are not only shining examples of innovation, but they are models for strong corporate culture. Leaders at these companies and others like them recognize the role culture plays in their success. IBM, for example, is well known for its culture change under Lou Gerstner. In changing the economic model and getting rid of perfectionism and consensus building, the company in turn found itself more agile and strategic. While the cornerstone of company culture is that it’s unique, there are five guiding principles that can be used to transform culture into one that drives employee engagement and profits.

1. Listen first

You need your employees to embrace the changing culture. Give them your uninterrupted attention and ear. Making sure they feel a part of the process is critical to getting their participation and commitment. Several studies directly link happy employees with higher revenue. The best way to make an employee happy is to make them feel valued. Hearing many different perspectives shapes the best decisions and outcomes that are right for your particular business. This worked for LivePerson, an online customer service site, that when faced with the task of overhauling its culture, had every single one of its employees participate in sourcing sessions to redefine core values.

2. Be accountable to each other

When you are part of a business that is being radically changed, accountability is your lifeblood. Motivating employees requires leaders to identify what drives each employee’s passion. People want autonomy, to direct their own lives, and to feel like they have a purpose. Giving them more responsibilities and challenges gives them the power to be accountable to each other in order to succeed. Being accountable ensures employees accept the responsibility to deliver against commitments. Meeting commitments creates a culture of success and reward for all stakeholders. At Spansion, on every employee’s badge, we list our values and the phrase, “It’s not what you say, it’s what you do.” Everyone is held accountable to that.

3. Empower and excite.

We have all worked for managers who control, doubt and critique us and we know how un-motivating that can feel. Employees may learn a lot from those bosses but companies lose good people that way. Strong leaders need to appeal to emotion and not just to logic. People will work harder for the leaders that empower them and give encouraging support. Rackspace’s “Rookie O” program, for example, is a five-day orientation program aimed at exciting new hires and fostering collaboration. Filled with ice breakers, games and much more, the program is meant to infuse enthusiasm into employees the moment they being their journey there.

4. Open Communication and Trust

Some companies have more battles and finger pointing within their organizations than with their competitors. Or, they collaborate better outside their walls than within. These companies are doomed to fail. Trust and communication within companies builds stronger teams and accountability. Cisco provides an open work environment to promote innovation and twice a year holds hackathons to encourage employees to think about problems and projects outside of their areas. Employees need to be constantly connected, inspired and truly feel a part of a culture of innovation.

5. Be Decisive and Take Risks

All of the above guidelines will not translate into realizing your company’s goals and vision if you are not decisive. Make the right decisions for the business and move with urgency. Be a leader. Taking too long to transform your culture could make you miss your next big opportunity. Ford Motor Company CEO Alan Mulally transformed its business by leading an internal merger where subsidiaries from around the world joined under one name and made some innovative changes to the product lines. As you make changes like these, you could experience a few failures along the way. How you respond to the losses and move on will define your success. In the end, you will enjoy the journey and reap the rewards as you see your company grow.

John Kispert is CEO of Spansion, a Sunnyvale, CA provider of Flash-based embedded systems solutions, is expanding its product portfolio and market opportunities by combining two organizations’ cultures through its acquisition of Fujitsu’s microcontroller and analog businesses.