Developing a positive culture for an organization or team is critical for our success. What is culture? Organization expert Richard Daft defines culture as, “The set of values, norms, guiding beliefs, and understandings that is shared by members of an organization and taught to new members as the correct way to think, feel, and behave.” A number of studies have shown a positive relationship between culture and performance. Adam Grant is a prominent organization psychologist, and he sums up his research by saying, “The culture of a workplace – an organization’s values, norms, and practices – has a huge impact on our happiness and success.”
So, how do we intentionally build a culture that will create greater happiness for our employees and greater success for our teams? Let's explore important tips to help build the great culture that drives the success we desire.
Tips to Build A Great Culture
1. Be intentional. Great cultures that generate high performance do not develop by accident. Great cultures are created as a result of intentional efforts including planful changes and consistent follow through.
2. Clarify what’s important to organizational (team) success. Clarifying the mission (why the team exists/its purpose), vision (what’s the future desired state?), and values (what are our core values that we aspire to?) is a good starting place in developing your desired culture. Articulating specific goals and the strategies to help achieve the goals is also important.
When clarifying what’s important, it should be our desire to add value to our key stakeholders, which are the investors (stockholders), customers, and employees. Research and experience show one factor that especially motivates people is how to serve and add value to customers and employees.
3. Define and explain the key values. The importance of values has already been mentioned, but what are some of the most important values we want to emphasize? There is no one magic list of desirable values that all teams should aspire to live. But following are a few values that various researchers and experts say contribute to a great culture and team success:
Integrity. Virtually all people value integrity, and multiple surveys support this priority. Integrity (always doing the right thing even if it costs) is a value that should be expressed, but is best taught by consistent actions by leaders and other influencers.
Adaptability & Flexibility. We live in a changing world, and to be successful, we need to be adaptable. We have seen the sad fate of organizations that are not adaptable to changes to factors such as customer preferences and technology (Toys ‘R Us and Sears are recent examples of this). Another important value is flexibility. Employees (and customers!) appreciate flexibility to help meet their needs. Regus reports a 70% increase in productivity for companies that have moved to flexible working practices. Yes, we need to have policies and procedures in place to avoid chaos and promote efficiency, consistency, and provide compliance. But, there are times when we can and should be flexible when it benefits a customer or employee and does no harm to our organization. I agree with President Franklin Roosevelt’s statement that, “Rules are not necessarily sacred, principles are.”
Collaboration. No individual by herself can be a lasting success. It takes a team effort to accomplish anything worthwhile. Valuing and practicing collaboration within and across teams will help lead to the success we desire.
Customer Orientation. No organization or team can exist without customers (whether internal and/or external). Focusing on serving customers well is crucial to help our teams not only survive, but thrive.
Results Orientation. At the end of the day, organizations and teams exist to get results for its key stakeholders. Emphasizing the bottom line results we seek is important. Equally or even more important is to also emphasize HOW we pursue the results we seek.
People (Employees) First. Almost every leader would agree with the statement that employees are the most valuable resource of the organization. I love the sentiment expressed by Andrew Carnegie (who owned the equivalent of several billion dollars of factories and equipment) when he stated, “Take away my people but leave my factories and soon grass will grow on the factory floor. Take away my factories but leave my people and soon we will have a new and better factory!” But when it comes to putting people first, talk is cheap; we need action. There is a wide range of practical ways to show employees we value them — including respecting work-life balance, compensating fairly, and providing growth and development opportunities. A recent Career Builder survey found the top two drivers employees valued were flexible schedules and recognition. Anne Mulchay, former CEO of Xerox, emphasized, “Employees who believe that management is concerned about them as a whole person – not just an employee – are more productive, more satisfied, more fulfilled. Satisfied employees mean satisfied customers, which leads to profitability.”
4. Provide linkages to employees on how they contribute to team success. Leadership expert Frances Hesselbein wisely observed, “People want to feel that what they do makes a difference.” From my experience and based on recent research, her statement rings true. I also agree with Ken and Scott Blanchard’s advice, “Connect the dots between individual roles and the goals of the organization. When people see that connection, they get a lot of energy out of work. They feel the importance, dignity, and meaning of their job.”
5. Implement Performance Culture tools. Here are some tools we can use to help develop the desired culture:
Symbolic Reminders. These are visible artifacts that reinforce desired behaviors and values. Examples are posters, pictures, and other wall hangings promoting key values, behaviors, and objectives; thank you notes from customers; rewards like trophies and plaques; and anything else that provides a visual reminder of what is important and/or past successes.
Keystone Behaviors. These are desired behaviors that we want to encourage and reinforce. Examples include empowering employees by reducing the number of approvals needed for decisions, promoting collaboration by making it easier to work across teams, and building personal relationships by following the advice of Richard Branson (Founder of Virgin Group), “There is no magic formula for great company culture. The key is just to treat your staff how you would like to be treated.”
6. Recognize and reward good behavior and performance. Research shows actions and behaviors that are reinforced (recognized and rewarded) get repeated; actions ignored for extended periods tend to cease. Dale Carnegie wisely said, "People work for money, but go the extra mile for recognition, praise, and rewards." Research over the years has led to the development of what some have called the “Greatest Management Principle in the World” —you get what you reward. Sincere, regular, and positive recognition and rewarding of desired behaviors is common sense — but not common practice. A Gallup poll of thousands of employees found that 65% claimed to have received no praise or recognition the past year!
7. Celebrate successes and have fun on the journey. A cardinal principle I constantly emphasize is “success breeds success.” The most extensive research project I have ever found on high-performing teams (involving 237 organizations and 2.5 million employees!) found three key ingredients that these teams shared: a strong sense of achievement, the ability to value and make room to have some fun, and a strong sense of camaraderie.
Here is a closing inspiring quote that speaks to the importance of our culture. Louis Gerstner, former CEO of IBM said, “I came to see, in my time at IBM, that culture isn’t just one aspect of the game, it is the game. In the end, an organization is nothing more than the collective capacity of its people to create value.” My best to you as you pursue a culture that will drive your teams to even higher level of success!
Wes Friesen (MBA, EMCM, CMDSM, MCOM, MDC, OSPC, CCE, CBF, CBA ICP, CMA, CFM, CM, APP, PHR, CTP) is a proven leader and developer of high performing teams and has extensive experience in both the corporate and non-profit worlds. He is also an award-winning university instructor and speaker and is the President of Solomon Training and Development, which provides leadership, management, and team building training. His book, Your Team Can Soar! ,has 42 valuable lessons that will inspire you, and give you practical pointers to help you — and your team — soar to new heights of performance. Your Team Can Soar! can be ordered from Xulonpress.com/bookstore or wesfriesen.com (under Book) or an online retailer like Amazon or Barnes & Noble. Wes can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 971.806.0812.