Culture by Design: Three Steps to Make it Happen

Culture by Design: Three Steps to Make it Happen

The phrase “culture is king” is thrown around quite a bit in business circles and yet, if you talk to healthcare leaders, you’ll find that there aren’t many who feel that their culture is what they want it to be.

In healthcare, most leaders are striving for a culture of service excellence, employee engagement and high quality care. Many hit the mark sometimes, but not in all categories all the time. Why?

Primarily because for many organizations, the culture just is what it is. There has been no conscious thought and planning for a specific, desired culture. But the truth is, creating an intentional culture requires clear vision, constant vigilance and ongoing coaching, and course correction.

Here are three things that leaders need to do to make their culture strong:

  1. Define a compelling vision along with clear expectations of all leaders, making sure that competencies are in place.
  2. Share the vision through clear communication, stating their expectations and specific standards of behavior. This sends a message that standards are non-negotiable.
  3. Lead in ways that are consistent with the desired culture and serve as role models for others to emulate—coaching, mentoring, modeling and managing for the behaviors that have been defined.

Peter Drucker is credited with making the statement “culture eats strategy for breakfast” (which is often restated as “culture eats strategy for lunch”). What does it mean? It means that an organization can spend time and effort on developing strategy, but without a strong and consistent culture that strategy won’t come to fruition.

Many healthcare leaders embrace the wisdom of this statement as they build a culture that drives desired results. It’s not easy. It often breaks down from push back. They must stand firmly behind the service standards as “non-negotiables.” If leaders define a compelling vision for the culture, communicate the vision (along with specific behavioral expectations), but then don’t back up their stated expectations with action, the culture won’t improve. One of these actions is setting and upholding clear standards. To back up these expectations in meaningful ways, leaders need to:

  • Model the expected behaviors
  • Positively reinforce and recognize  those who exhibit excellence  (using the language of the standards)
  • Constructively correct and coach those who don’t exhibit these behaviors (using the language of the standards)

Avoidance is the number one accountability killer. How often have you observed members of your organization exhibiting non-negotiable behaviors, yet fail to do anything about it? How often have you done this in situations where others have been able to observe your inaction? What message do you think that sends about how non-negotiable these standards really are?

Culture is king—but only when leaders do three things: create a compelling vision, communicate the vision, consistently support the vision. How are you doing at that?

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