Enhance Your Business By Creating A Positive Culture

Editor’s Note: Stan Silverzweig, along with his partner, Nicholas D’Agostino of D’Agostino Supermarkets, has served as presenter on several occasions before the Rothman Institute’s Family Business Forum at Fairleigh Dickinson University.

The best way to enhance a business is to create a positive culture, according to Stan Silverzweig, president of Silverzweig Associates, a management consulting firm which specializes in changing and improving business cultures.

Silverzweig, whose clients have included Wal-Mart, The Disney Stores, Coca-Cola, Hoffman La-Roche and Exxon, claims every organization has “its unique set of indigenous culture norms.”  These behavioral patterns, expectations consisting of an unwritten set of rules, have an immense impact on an operation, he maintains.

In a family owned business, origins, family values, traditions – many of which have been passed on for generations – also impact behavioral patterns and expectations. According to Silverzweig, once recognized, people can change and reshape their cultural environment rather than merely being shaped by it.

In an article co-authored for MIT’s Sloan’s Management Review and distributed at a recent Family Business Forum session, Silverzweig said “there are literally thousands of norms which affect behavior in business, including how we dress, how hard we work, how we measure success, how we are rewarded, and how we deal with each other.”

However, he noted, there also are a small number of “norm influence areas,” which taken together tend to have a critical impact on all the other areas and on overall organizational effectiveness. It is these ‘norm influence’ areas that need to be systematically studied and modified if change is to take place.” Among the principles of effective change, he cited: Involvement of people. Emphasis on results. Total systems approach. Continuing commitment, not merely lip service.   People, he said, need to help plan, develop, and experience what is happening within an organization. To be effective, they need to be a part of any movement, not merely hear about it and be expected to adhere to it.

He called feedback from one’s peers and subordinates essential in determining results. Changing a human culture, according to Silverzweig, requires a systematic effort over time. Moving too fast or too slow may interfere with daily operations and become taxing and ultimately wearying.

The focus, he said, should always be positive whether you are dealing with productivity, quality control or morale. Focusing on scapegoating or recriminating individuals or groups for past mistakes only impedes cultural change, according to Silverzweig.

In a hierarchical structure, such as a business, visible modeling behavior and gut-level commitment and involvement of the president and key executives are very important. Mere lip service, a lack of understanding or visible support from the top can frustrate any change efforts, he noted.

Listed as key ingredients to creating a positive corporate culture were: 

RECRUITMENT: Creating a positive culture within an organization begins with an effective recruitment program, Silverzweig noted, adding, “how you find and select people will have a lot to do with how you develop and maintain your company culture.”  He called proper screening and evaluation “musts.” The high cost of turnover, he said, makes it especially important, when hiring, to engage the right person.

Interviews, he suggested, should be done by skilled interviewers with the ability to assess a recruit’s sincerity; his ability to relate to others; listen, assume and/or delegate responsibility; enthusiasm, and commitment to the job. In labor-scarce situations, applications should be simplified and employment decisions made on the spot during the interview.

ORIENTATION: Orientation may be the single most critical factor once the decision to bring someone on board is made. The key is to make sure that the first day is a “great” day. Psychologically, Silverzweig noted, people are more open to understanding and adapting to a new “culture” during their first day on the job. He termed introduction to other key players and exposure to existing policies and procedures (which may be outlined in an employee handbook) as essential during the early stages along with periodic feedback.

TRAINING: Significant time, sufficient energy and support should be given everyone who enters the company. All training programs, he said, should be motivational, as well as informative, whether in a classroom setting or on the job.
Offer English language courses to foreign speaking employees, the audience was told. Such courses will boost morale and help the new hirees assimilate while increasing their effectiveness and productivity.

COMMUNICATION: Clear, consistent and constant communication was termed a hallmark of operations in any culture. To be effective, communication – a two-way process – requires feedback and follow-up. Everyone should be encouraged to speak up, ask questions and seek clarification of issues to avoid misunderstandings. In a positive culture, everyone enjoys a sense of belonging and involvement, Silverzweig said.

He described the ability to delegate responsibility as yet another form of communication, a way of informing and involving others in an operation. In today’s sophisticated environment, being able to delegate responsibility, may be crucial in meeting customer expectations and deadlines, according to Silverzweig.
Also encouraged by Silverzweig, an “open door” policy along with regular meetings, that include members of management and a sampling of employees, to review major goals, problems and opportunities, and to make sure these are communicated to the rest of the staff.

RECOGNITION AND REWARD: Recognition of both positive and negative behavior, and achievement versus goals, were described as critical factors in establishing a positive culture. Everyone should have a set of goals and objectives. In a positive culture, praise, recognition and encouragement were termed a constant. Incentive programs, whether cash bonuses, a trip, or other award, for meeting and/or exceeding objectives and goals, were also recommended.

Negative behavior needs to be addressed. Individuals who do not choose, or are unable to embody the positive aspects and goals set forth by a company, may be terminated. Often such individuals, it was noted, decide on their own to seek employment elsewhere.

Once established, high standards, Silverzweig said, become the accepted norm in a positive culture, fostering teamwork and camaraderie.