We have lived through the age of process improvement as Nirvana. We have discovered that checklists are great but they are not the whole answer. Efficiency and productivity are very important, but not to the point where they totally stifle innovation and the individual desire to search for ways to do things differently because they are better, not just different.
A culture is not- or at least should not be – a cage. It should be a set of values with behaviors attached to them, that create space for employees to do what they do best, feel good about what they are doing and to develop their skills and abilities so that they can continue to improve themselves and add value to the company. Cultures do have boundaries, as does any larger culture within which we may reside. But employees need room to make decisions, to experiment, to try out new ideas in the right places in the right way and at the right time. If those opportunities are built into the culture, then employees will have an allowed way to stretch themselves, to bring new ideas out that can help the company in ways that are beneficial.
Nobody wants to feel as if they are just checking boxes. It might be easy, but it is not fulfilling. People do want to make a difference. A culture should give everyone room to be a hero in some way. Has your company put up obstacles to this type of success? If so, how can you remove them and still remain productive and efficient?
Integrity starts at the top. And “do as I say, not as I do” does not cut it. Employees watch the boss and the behavior she exhibits. If she does something that is not in line with the organizational definition of integrity, guess what will happen. Some will say, “if she can do that, then why can’t I?” and then they will exhibit behaviors like that, slowly eroding the culture. Others may decide they do not want to work for a company where a leader exhibits such behavior and they will leave, or worse, they will stay and be disenchanted and become less and less engaged. They will turn a blind eye when others act inappropriately, and again, things will fall apart.
Integrity counts. And not just when someone is watching. Integrity is doing the right thing when nobody is watching and nobody will find out. It’s speaking up when everyone else is silent. Not every company claims integrity as a core value, because in many cases it just goes without saying. But, it is a necessity for every corporate culture to maintain unity, employee engagement, collaboration and a sense of organizational pride. Integrity is critical to every brand. Nobody wants to do business with a company known to fudge their results or to take shortcuts in building or developing their products and delivering their services.
Unfortunately, integrity is far from universal in our world. We read about bribes, kickbacks, food product and drug recalls, autos being sold knowingly with defective parts. Who wants to be in a headline for one of those reasons? Who wants to live with themselves having done that? Integrity starts at the top and should be part of every employee. Yes, folks will still have to go to confession for things they do in their personal lives, but there should be no reason to confess for breaches of integrity at work. Integrity does matter to a company. Does it matter to yours?
There is no rule that defines what every organization’s core values need to be, no right or wrong. Values represent the principles that an organization is going to follow to help them achieve their vision. Many companies use words like respect, collaboration, customer-centric, quality and team as their values. Others of a different type use words like hard-charging, aggressive, take-no-prisoners and competitive as theirs. Again there is no right or wrong.
But to achieve those values, a company must define the behaviors that support them. And then must insure that there is consistency in those behaviors’ definitions. The latter set described above sounds perfect for a competitive athlete or ex-military who have come from that type of culture. But the behaviors required still need to be defined and where the lines are drawn needs to be made clear. Clearly nobody would recommend actually killing or harming a competitor; or threatening a customer into purchasing more. Yet on the surface the values could be interpreted as consistent with such behaviors.
Values are often words on a plaque or in a strategic plan. But they are brought to life and ingrained in the culture through the behaviors that truly define them. And the organization will stand or fall based on how well the values and behaviors are enforced. Accountability cannot be selective- it must be uniform.
Values, behaviors, and accountability are a package in successful organizations. Are your values empty words or the real deal?
Most business owners and leaders believe that they have infused their organization with a healthy culture. They do not necessarily focus on keeping it that way. There is much to think about and more to do, and culture moves out of the mind of many leaders much too quickly. (We believe that there should always be a place in the mind-share of leaders for organizational culture but it doesn’t always happen.)
Amazingly, one or two moments can begin to cause a crack in a culture. Behavior unaligned with core values can set a bad example that others soon follow. Here is a symptom that needs to be addressed before it becomes full-blown disease. If multiple cracks occur before leadership turns its attention back to the culture, they may find something they do not even recognize. Toxic cultures don’t start that way- who would go to work for a toxic organization?
Over the last few years we have heard a lot about “teachable moments.” In corporate culture, there are those moments that may not look critical but are, and they revolve around how deviations from core values and behaviors aligned with them are addressed. Ignoring them or blowing them off is not a sign of benevolence, it is a sign of negligence. The culture needs to be nurtured and treasured and kept whole by all who work within it.
Slipping involves falling down, not moving up. An organization cannot move forward if it is constantly slipping. If cultural health matters-and it does- use every opportunity to support healthfulness.
Leadership is not a position- it is a trait. It should be found at every level of an organization, from the C-Suite to the assembly line. Every employee has the potential to be a leader, and the more leaders in an organization, aligned with the vision, values and desired behaviors, the stronger the culture, the higher the employee engagement and the greater the productivity. Those that are looking to others to lead will rally around positive role models.
Every organization needs a critical mass- enough leaders at every level to get people pointed in the right direction and doing the right things for the right reasons. When this happens, companies can take a great leap forward.
Leaders come in different shapes and forms. Some rebel against injustice to get management to “see the light”; others inspire their co-workers to collaborate and work hard to help the company succeed; and still others just lead by example- showing innovation, doing the work nobody else is willing to do, or stepping outside of process to make things easier.
Does your organization have the critical mass leadership necessary to propel towards success?