If you don't want your culture to be affected by company growth, start with creating a resilient culture, building a visible force, and leading with love, says Meredith Bronk, President and CEO of OST.
At OST, our culture guides us. Our guiding principles of honour, delight, serve, embrace and learn, ensure our people remain grounded and confident even in times of change or uncertainty. These principles define who we are and why we do what we do.
To me, culture is about how the organization behaves, individually and collectively. You need to have a well-established, well-understood culture before you embark on radical change to use that as a lever during change.
A constant in the face of change
Understanding the corporate culture that you have and identifying how that evolves during change is an important message. At the end of the day, for OST, culture became the constant in the middle of the whirlwind that is change. People need that centring, that place of safety and security. Even in the face of change, our constant culture is something people can rely on. All this is going on around us, but here is something you can count on. Using that as an anchor for people is a remarkable gift.
Creating a resilient corporate culture
The first step is articulating it. That’s where it starts. It was about nine years ago when we first articulated our guiding principles. We went through an exercise that didn’t say what do we want to be, but what are we. How are we articulating the behaviour that represents who we are?
My advice is: talk to as many people as you can. It’s important to get input because the end result needs to be buy-in. Where cultural statements are aspirational, you have to own the aspiration. Otherwise, it could detract from components that are real.
We have to use the skills and talents and capabilities that are afforded to us to drive the outcomes that we want. Maximizing those things is what any of us as leaders need to do. You then attract the kind of people who are attracted to the kind of behaviour that you want.
The hard work is withstanding all those challenges and the headwinds that come, to stay true to your integrity to make it so. To me, that’s the worthwhile part. We have to maintain that level of integrity no matter what.
Building a visible force
In order to build the foundation for a resilient culture, it must be consumable and visible. It can’t just be words on a page, or writing on a wall, or something posted on your website. How is the behaviour visible and persistent?
At OST, before employees begin their first day, they receive our OST Way booklet in the mail. Before they even start, this provides a little glimpse of who we are. The onboarding process includes OST swag and stories about how the culture is present in everyday choices. I do a new employee lunch every quarter talking just about our culture and our guiding principles. I ask for their perspective on how the OST culture is showing up for them already. These are all ways to reinforce our values. Our culture is present in every company presentation that I give, so it is a persistent element and creates persistent expectations around it.
These behaviours are also expected of each of us who call OST home. It has to be visible by every single person inside the organization for it to feel real to people. We need to make sure that everyone owns the message.
One of the challenges is making sure there are solid feedback loops. It doesn’t come with hierarchy. Creating that sense of ownership and reinforcing that at the end of the day, that’s why people come here. For most companies, when the business begins missing expectations, they want to fix something. For us, when the business results aren’t what they need to be, I go back to "where are we off in doing what we need to do with our team? Do we have people in the wrong seats?" At the end of the day, that’s where we solve it.
Most people walking in the door, they think it’s awesome that they get to receive this thing, this culture that is ready for them to benefit from. It’s not until you’ve been here for a little bit that you realize, it’s yours to sustain. It’s something for which you have great responsibility. Keeping that at the core is critical, especially during times of growth and change.
Leading with love
Consistent with our culture is this sense of care and love. I want to prove that you can be a services company at scale that keeps employees first.
What does that mean?
If it’s good for the employees, then it’s good for our clients, then it’s good for the business.
We ensure that there’s shared responsibility for all three of those elements inside of a culture that naturally cares. Teaching all three of those aspects so everyone is committed is also part of the equation.
When there is conflict, we look at what is right for the team. To be an employee-first organisation, we answer: what is right for the collective group? The 270 families that want us to make great decisions so they have a great place to work, what’s in the best interest of that group?
There is a heightened consciousness toward greater good in corporate America right now. As a leader managing love and strength, those two things have to co-exist. It’s probably the toughest thing I have to do as CEO. As CEO, my first responsibility is to drive results. If I can’t create results, then I don’t have the credibility to be able to do the things I want to do. In creating a growth culture, it’s predicated on the ability to also drive results.
About the author
Meredith Bronk, President and CEO of OST, has been with the company since 1998. Meredith understands the needs of a dynamic growing organization and leverages her strong leadership capabilities to bring creative solutions to clients while maintaining a strong organizational culture. It is this vision, passion and empathy that she brings to leading OST and its 260 employees every day.
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