Published In, Forbes

By, Stuart R. Levine

According to Steven Rice, chief human resources officer at Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, culture is one of the most important areas that HR executives are focused on now. With approximately 1,500 global employees, providing $5.5 billion of investments per year, this is quite a legacy for the founders and the Foundation to impact the world.

This month, over 400 participants signed up for a webinar to hear his insights on how to build cultures that deliver results. Sixty percent of CEOs and senior executives on the webinar believed their organization had a productive culture that yielded results. This means that the other 40% face an opportunity to improve the culture of their organization.

Culture starts with the commitment of the CEO. Although 85% of S&P companies show corporate culture and values on their website, actions must match their words in order to impact engagement, trust and results. Only 35% of U.S. managers are engaged at work which then explains the cascading lack of workforce engagement throughout the entire organization. Engagement and employee satisfaction impact customer service and long-term stock price appreciation.

It’s easier to create a culture than to change one. When changing a culture, the first step is to ensure that the CEO is all in and ready for a 2-3 year journey. The commitment of senior leadership to both the values they stand for and what outcome they are driving is key.   Looking at behaviors from the top and how they move through the organization is critical. Managers in the middle of an organization must be walking the talk through the organization as well. The phrase, “culture eats strategy for breakfast”, reflects how these behaviors impact strategic execution and culture wins every time.

Setting shared expectations and agreements for how people show up both inside and outside of work, combined with leadership principles, ensures that progress against these key critical values and behaviors can be measured. Using the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation as an example, shared expectations are created by their Four Agreements: Show Respect, Offer Trust, Be Transparent and Create Energy. Their Leadership Principles, used in conjunction with their Four Agreements – Prioritize our Collective Success, Model Courageous Inquiry & Intellectual Integrity and Nurture People & Build Great Teams – enables them to drive a theory of change that is communicated over and over again by leadership.

This common language is driven at the Foundation every day, giving people a real sense of pride and how they should show up in their day to day actions. Annual surveys and pulse surveys throughout the year, are able to measure these dimensions to see their results on these measures.   As Steve Rice says, “If you can’t measure it, then it’s not worth doing.” Most gratifying to Steve is that their participation rate of 94.5% for survey completion, which is requested from employees, but not compulsory, shows their engagement to owning this culture change effort and being accountable for achieving greater impact in the future.

The CEOs performance is also measured on a transparent scorecard that is shared not only with the board, but is available to the organization as a whole through short 2-3 minute videos, messaging through the Foundation intranet, video boards and signage. The capacity of the organization to deliver on their global mission is shared with all stakeholders. It serves as a continuing scorecard on how they are aligning to deliver on strategies, building a culture around results and embracing operational excellence.

The encouraging thing is that even those organizations with limited resources can approach culture change from a practical standpoint. First the CEO has to digest the internal data, understand the challenges and commit to the lengthy journey of culture change. Then the CEO needs to seek out influencers within the organization to improve engagement through strategic communication and learning around shared values and behaviors. Ensuring a focus on continuous learning will put your organization on the right path for achieving your goals and strategies while engaging your workforce and creating sustainable client relationships.