Over the past few years, there has been a growing awareness among top-level executives about the impact of culture on business success. Yet the responsibility for managing the culture is still a murky area—especially when leaders’ job descriptions and incentives are focused primarily on productivity and results, and not on building workplace trust and respect. Thus, in the day-to-day workplace, leaders tend to consider culture issues as irrelevant and not a part of their jobs.
S. Chris Edmonds is trying to change that view. Edmonds is founder and CEO of The Purposeful Culture Group, and author of the new book, The Culture Engine: A Framework for Driving Results, Inspiring Your Employees, and Transforming Your Workplace.
“If leaders are solely focused on results, they’re only doing half their job,” he stresses. “The other half is managing the quality of the workforce. Culture is the engine that drives everything that happens in an organization each day.”
Creating the type of culture that engages all employees begins by creating an “organizational constitution,” Edmonds says. This is a formal document that states the company’s guiding principles and behaviors, and describes how employees at all levels will engage with each other, as well as customers, suppliers and vendors, as they act to fulfill their organization’s purpose, values, strategies and goals.
The first course of action is an assessment of the current workplace climate. Yet taking the time to observe and develop an honest evaluation of the work environment is a step that leaders often skip. “Leaders are often insulated from the realities of the day-to-day, the front line, and the actual quality of the way their organization is operating. Instead, their focus is exclusively on how the organization performs,” he explains. “The reality is that it often takes a dramatic event—a key leader or customer leaving—to signal that things are not good.”
Expanding their view calls for leaders to invest time and energy in learning whether employees trust their managers, and whether there is a feeling that leadership actually cares for the human element, Edmonds adds. Doing so requires leaders to reach out to more sources within the company, instead of relying on a select few. “Dedicate space and time to learn from different players throughout the organization to ensure that you’re getting a bigger, more accurate picture,” he says.
Craft Clear Performance Expectations for Leaders
Edmonds strongly believes that companies need to place as much emphasis on managing the human experience as they do on managing production and services. How? By giving it structure: Formalizing your company values in behavioral terms helps to build clarity of expectations for being a valued team member. “Crafting clear performance expectations is vital to hold people accountable for those expectations. Just as you evaluate and improve leaders’ performance via dashboards, we need to do the same around values and good citizenship,” he says.
Measuring how well leaders model the values and behaviors can be done through a simple survey tool—the key is to engage employees on a frequent and regular basis. For instance, every three months present employees with your company’s values, along with behaviors for each, and ask: How well does my manager model these behaviors every day? Does my manager do what he says he’s going to do? Does he listen and respond when I have ideas?
“Now you have a dashboard that provides reliable and undeniable data,” Edmonds says. He adds that the truth about how employees view their manager’s performance is typically revealed over time. Results from the first survey will often indicate that everything is fine. But once employees get past their fear of retribution and realize that leaders are serious about finding out what they think and what isn’t working, they will feel encouraged to be more forthcoming with their responses. “You will eventually get to the unvarnished truth, which is sometimes a shock,” he says.
Living and Modeling the Culture
To take your culture past the talking stage, all company leaders have to commit to living it and modeling it.
“For the first six months, leaders are going to be the only source of credibility for the effort. Your every plan, decision and action has to reflect that servant purpose and the values and behaviors,” Edmonds says. “Your employees are going to watch you very carefully. Anything that you do that is seen as inconsistent will erode the credibility of the entire initiative.”
He adds that modeling the culture extends to your life outside of the company, as well. “The scrutiny of leaders goes up dramatically when they begin this process. As you raise up these desirable practices and guidelines for how we’re going to treat each other, you’re never off duty. If employees see you outside of work not living the values, it sends a clear message.”
In addition to modeling the behaviors through your actions, Edmonds offers the following ideas for promoting the values and behaviors outlined in your organizational constitution to employees:
- Spend a greater portion of your time in town hall meetings, department meetings, huddles and face-to-face discussions talking about the values and good citizenship rather than results and profits.
- Create a marketing campaign to ensure that your company’s values and purpose are reinforced. “Just as we have been communicating the importance of performance effectiveness, now we have to communicate the importance of values effectiveness,” he says.
- Hold leaders accountable. “Your employees are not going to embrace your organizational constitution until they see leaders embrace it,” he says. “All leaders must be consistent and they must hold each other accountable. Let’s take the good practices of managing accountability for performance, and let’s hold leaders accountable for being nice.”
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