culture, dark matter

Get the organization aligned

When I first arrived at Red Hat in 1999, I have to say I didn’t get the warmest welcome in the world. After all, I’d just joined Red Hat from IBM, which many earlier Red Hat folks viewed as exactly the kind of corporate culture they were trying to escape. I think IBM is a great company, but it certainly didn’t define me either, so I was a little surprised the first time someone came up to me and said, “Don’t worry, you’ll drink the Kool-Aid soon enough.”

kool-aidNow I knew where this idea came from. But I kind of thought I had already drunk the Kool-Aid– that’s why I left the security of IBM to join this crazy company after all. What I learned over the next few years is that everyone tastes the Kool-Aid a little differently. Red Hat meant very different things to different people, even if they all thought they were drinking the same Kool-Aid. I learned what I didn’t know very quickly… but I learned it on my own.

So how do you make it easier for everyone you employ to have a shared vision of what the company hopes to accomplish? How to do you ensure that everyone in the organization is aligned (and excited!) about a common cause?

Make internal communications a strategy and not a function.

I’ve never understood why companies put very junior people in charge of internal communications. Or hire people into internal communications jobs from outside the company. The people communicating to all employees have to “get it.” Deeply. They need to understand the ins and outs of your culture. They need to understand your company strategy. They should be in regular touch with your CEO. And should be helping him or her tell your company story at every turn.

goodtogreatbuilttolastI’m a big believer in the Jim Collins and Jerry Porras books, Built to Last and Good to Great, and we drew heavily from their work in designing the Red Hat vision, mission, and values. A few key lessons I learned from them on setting your company up for greatness:

  • Create a shared vision or mission that is about more than making money.
  • Build your culture on a strong set of core values (our four values have been in place for over 7 years, and guide many of the decisions and conversations inside of Red Hat).
  • You can’t skimp on either the short term objectives or the long term vision if you want to be successful. You have to do both, and do both well, all of the time. So many companies mortgage their dreams and beliefs too easily… it makes me sad.

Once the architecture is in place and you have consensus on what the vision, mission, and values of the company are, every communication internally becomes a strategic opportunity to drive them deeply into the organization.

If you want to make mission and values real, don’t put them on a Power Point slide. Show them in action. Here in North Carolina, our state motto is Esse Quam Videri, “To be rather than to seem.” In our group’s work, we attempt to live the mission, live the values in everything we do, everything we write, everything we film. Capture the values in action. Rather than just talking about them. To be rather than to seem.

A shared vision, mission, and value system, coupled with good strategic internal communications. These are the keys to getting an organization aligned. Singing as a chorus, not a crowd.

Not simply ensuring that everyone knows the acronym you use to remember your values. Or that you have a poster in every conference room with the values listed, like Successories or something. I hate that crap.

But showing the organization, using every tool at your disposal, at every opportunity, from the CEO on down, living the vision, mission, and values in everything they do.

What tools do we use to do that? More later:)

About Chris Grams

Chris Grams is Head of Marketing at Tidelift. He is also the author of The Ad-Free Brand: Secrets to Successful Brand Positioning in a Digital World.


6 thoughts on “Get the organization aligned

  1. In this economy companies are forgetting that internal communications is a great way to keep engagement up without spending any extra money. The money is going to be spent on communication anyway, why not use it to your advantage and use it as a marketing tool. Consulting firms offer expertise in the area and recommendations that can dramatically the ROI of internal communication.

    Posted by Verity | January 21, 2009, 4:49 pm


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