“Culture eats strategy for breakfast.”
This oft-repeated pithy quote from business guru Peter Drucker might cause you to roll your eyes if it weren’t so damn true. Newsflash: in addition to strategy for breakfast, culture eats management for lunch, policy for dinner and tactics as a midnight snack. In other words, there is no stronger performance driver for an organization than its culture.
Corporate leaders know this. It’s why they spend money on surveys, consultants, courses and retreats trying to find ways to improve culture. In his book The Culture Cycle, James Haskett estimates that an effective culture can account for upwards of 30% of the differential in corporate performance compared to organizations that have culture issues.
You can find many differing definitions of corporate culture, but at its core, it’s the values and actions of employees that create an organization’s environment and define its practices. For organizations struggling with corporate culture issues, it’s often because those values and actions are not aligned. People aren’t walking the talk. The culture is not authentic.
For leaders looking to improve organizational culture, I would encourage them to seek a perhaps yet untapped resource: your Generation X employees.
One of the most important aspects of a solid corporate culture is authenticity, and a hallmark characteristic of GenX-ers is how they value authenticity. They’ll be the first ones to point out when actions don’t align with values, or if certain initiatives feel forced or false. That’s a fine first step, but allow them to go deeper and they can help their organizations identify strengths that can drive values that employees can align behind and deliver on.
Pragmatism is another characteristic that is part of the GenX brand. It’s easy to mistake good old-fashioned GenX pragmatism for negativism in the workplace, especially when they are sandwiched in between two generations known for their idealism. Pragmatists focus on how to get things done. They can see the big picture but also potential barriers that could get in the way of success, and they tend to want to spend energy overcoming the roadblocks. Engaging GenX employees in culture improvement discussions and initiatives can lead to some “quick wins” as they can see possibilities within existing frameworks.
But what if your existing framework is what needs improvement? Generation X is an asset here too. Their influence on the modern workplace in regards to improved work/life integration, women at work and the use of technology was a paradigm shift. Pragmatic as they may be, a desire for change and improvement is as strong with X-ers as it is with other generations, including Millennials.
As an added bonus, involving Generation X employees in culture-shaping engages a generation of workers who—at this point in their career—have a significant amount of institutional and industry knowledge and experience yet may be stalled in their current roles. With Baby Boomer leaders staying in the workforce longer and Millennials quickly climbing corporate ladders, it can feel like GenX is the forgotten middle child of the workplace. Using GenX expertise for the purposes of improving workplace culture recognizes these employees as future organizational leaders who can successfully navigate an increasingly complex business environment.