Culture is one of those fancy corporate words that people can get glossy-eyed over. To me, culture just means how people consistently behave, the kinds of decisions they consistently make, and the way they consistently communicate. In other words, culture is about the reality of your workplace. It’s not what you want it to be, but rather what it actually is right now.
If you want to change your organization’s culture, here are three steps that I recommend:
First, write down very clearly the type of culture you want in terms of people’s behaviors, decisions, and communications. For example, do you want your employees to be polite or aggressive, do you want communications to be succinct or in-depth arguments that challenge the status quo, and do you want people to make quick decisions or well-researched, informed decisions?
Second, after you clarify in your own mind, or in the minds of the executive team that arrived at the answer through a collaborative discussion, then you need to clearly communicate the desired culture to everyone in your organization. This may require a series of individual, small group, and large group discussions.
Third, to guide the organization toward the desired culture you will need to reinforce what you are looking for through providing positive and negative consequences for your current employees and through the hiring decisions you make.
An organization’s brand is built by making promises and then keeping them.
An individual’s reputation is built the same way. If an employee has accepted the responsibility of doing something, then he or she needs to be held accountable for doing it. If you say you are going to do something, then do it. And you both have to be held accountable.
If you provide a negative consequence to an employee for not doing something and you have no negative consequences for doing the same thing, then you will lose credibility and the respect of others. On the other hand, if you don’t hold an employee accountable for not doing what was supposed to be done, you will also lose credibility and the respect of others.
In an effective team, there is accountability. The negative consequence for you could be that you have to apologize to your entire office or region or company when you don’t do what you said you would do. You might have to lose your bonus. The negative consequence for your employee might be a formal, written reprimand or a decrease in bonus or a demotion.
Of course, in holding people accountable you also will have opportunities to provide positive consequences both for yourself and other people. That part is important as well.
Almost nothing frustrates employees and suppliers more than being kept in the dark. If you want to be a respected business leader, be prepared and willing to explain why you decided to do what you did.
You just promoted a thirty-year-old employee with five years of experience to be a vice-president and did not promote a forty-year-old employee with fifteen years experience. If the older employee asks why you did that, you better be prepared and willing to explain your answer. Otherwise you will lose respect throughout the organization. It is not enough to say, “It’s none of your business. Just deal with it.” Be honest and clear. Better yet, explain your rationale before you are asked to explain it.
If you’re discontinuing a long-term product or dramatically changing the pricing structure of your services, then be ready to explain why you are doing it. Of course, people are not going to always agree with your decision, but they can live with it. What is vastly more difficult to live with is a business leader who stops communicating. The answer, “Just trust me” is usually not good enough. If they didn’t trust you, the employees would have quit. They are looking to understand why a certain decision was made.
If you are a respected business leader who affects strategy, execution, innovation, and/or branding, then don’t mess it up by giving excessive unsolicited feedback to your employees.
Here’s an example. A group of your employees are planning a happy hour for the staff. You decide to weigh in and start giving recommendations on great places to go to and you present them with the pros and cons of each place.
Stop. Don’t do that. It will irritate the heck out of people and no one will tell you. The more you give unsolicited feedback, the more you are going to dilute your impact as a leader. Be very selective about when you give people input. Don’t just randomly run into them in the hallway and start peppering them with questions and suggestions.
Save your impact for a few key moments. Be okay with not giving input, with not adding value, and with not leading. Just be there without always being the problem-solver or the advisor.
Sometimes you will be faced with a situation that is truly an either-or situation. If that becomes a “result or relationship” situation, I encourage you as a business leader to emphasize the relationship part of that equation.
Say it’s three days before the end of the quarter. You are $80,000 short of achieving your quarterly goal. You get a project for $90,000, but you have a long-standing agreement with an outside source to give her 20% of all business that came to you as a result of previous projects that she guided to you. She doesn’t know about this new project, which came to you indirectly from a previous project that she had secured for you, and is unlikely to hear about it, especially before the quarter ends. You could put the $90,000 in the bank, hit your quarterly goal, and “no harm” will be done.
Or you can send her $18,000, likely miss your target, and hear some negative repercussions from your boss. Maybe it’s the third straight quarter where you missed your revenue objective and your job is on the line.
What do you do?
I encourage you to think about the long term. If you act with integrity, the other person knows she can trust you. If you act with integrity, you know you can trust yourself in the future. That’s; two very important relationships. One with a person who refers new business to you, and one with yourself.
Let’s say you have 300 people in your organization. Or 300 customers. Or 300 readers.
Leadership means influencing how other people think so they make decisions that improve results in a sustainable way.
If each of those 300 people make three decisions every day that affect results for your organization in some meaningful way, then you can influence 900 decisions every day.
What story will you tell, what explanation will you provide, what piece of data or research will you offer, what strong statement will you make, what key question will you ask, and what example will you provide to those 300 people that will affect how they think? Once you decide on your answer, then move into action.
You don’t have to do the thinking for those 300 people. You just need to influence how they think. And if you do a really good job at it every once in awhile your influence will last for a very long time. You don’t have to influence them every day in order to have a daily impact on those 900 decisions.
The ability to influence how people think, which is the way I define leadership, is a powerful skill, but if you use it too often it can overwhelm people and turn them off.
Don’t feel compelled to always add suggestions and comments and direction and feedback in every single situation and conversation you find yourself in. Be very selective as to when you ask questions and offer an idea and paint a vision of success.
If you overdo it, you will lose your impact in every situation.
Most of the time just be okay with observing and not adding any value. Be okay with letting other people make decisions without any input from you. Let other people lead and don’t interrupt them.