This isn’t why I started my business!
This isn’t fun anymore!
What’s wrong with people?
Who would do that?
How did we get this culture?
At some point, as founders of our businesses, we had marvelous dreams. Dreams of a product or service our target market would crave, employees who were just as passionate about this offering as we are, and dreams of working in an environment with a contagious culture that inspired excellence, passion, and even fun!
In the beginning, sure it may have been tough to get the product or service out there, but we still had fun doing it as we got that flywheel turning. We were surrounded by people who were talented, dedicated, and fun – somehow even finding humor at just the right times.
So, what the heck happened?!?
Wanting a great culture isn’t enough. We must be clear about the culture we want and purposeful about championing that culture.
This is a fact: You have a culture, whether it’s the one you want or not.
Your culture is a result of behaviors rewarded and recognized, and behaviors tolerated. The bottom line: your culture is a reflection of the leadership practices of you and your leadership team. Core values are the behaviors that drive the culture. Let’s explore the following:
- Clear Core Values
- Governing by Core Values, not Policies
- Reward and recognize aligned behaviors
- Which behaviors are tolerated
- How to measure the existing culture
Clear Core Values
There are many opinions on what makes for a good core value. Some consultants insist it must be one word, some say that word must be a verb, others say your core values should spell some memorable acronym.
Our opinion is that for it to be CORE, it must be something that is a strong attribute or focus throughout your organization – not something you wish you had, but something that is; if it is something you wish or strive to have as a core value we consider it an aspirational value and should be acknowledged as such.
We also believe it should be something that differentiates your culture from other employers – if not by label, then by definition. As an example, most companies want Integrity as a core value. Of course! Who wants to hire the guy who lies? So that really isn’t a differentiator in the market, is it? Well, we have a client who has defined it as “do the right thing even if no one is looking or will ever find out.” That’s a unique definition. That definition makes it okay to tell a white lie to hide a surprise party if that would be the right thing.
We also believe, the core value should be memorable in itself; who cares if it’s one word, a verb, or a phrase you hear people use frequently in the organization as a way to acknowledge the demonstration of that core value.
While there are some exceptions, most organizations will have three to five core values. Beyond that, it’s probably not CORE – it might be a value, but rarely can you consider 15 behaviors CORE.
Governing By Core Values, Not Policies
When you govern by policies, you govern retroactively, but when you govern by core values, you govern proactively. Let’s exclude the policies you are required by law to have. The other policies are typically created to stop some behavior you do not want to recur. So you wait for someone to do something stupid and create a policy to prohibit it – that’s what makes it retroactive. Essentially, it must be that way because your mind can never anticipate the myriad of stupid things people can do! However, if you govern by using your core values, it proactively gives your employees a playbook by which they can make better decisions.
Retroactive examples: No smelly foods cooked in the microwave (with an ever-growing list of examples). You must park your vehicle within the white lines of the parking lot. If you play music at your work station, you must wear headphones but always keep one off/out so others can communicate with you.
Proactive examples: Assume a core value to Be Considerate of Others. Joey, help me understand how burning garlic, curried popcorn in the microwave is being considerate of others. Suzy, rather than parking your F150 across 4 parking spaces, how might you have been more considerate of others? Tom, what might have been a better way to enjoy your music at your work station and still be considerate of others?
Reward And Recognize Aligned Behaviors
Similarly, when the right behaviors are demonstrated, acknowledge them for others to take note and to reinforce the right behavior in the future. It can be as simple as an email to Sharon thanking her for demonstrating the Find A Way as she solved a client issue, and copying members of her team or her supervisor.
If your core values are newly defined and you want to bring them to the forefront, you could and perhaps should, be more dramatic in your recognition. Why not have a drawing at the end of the month for a new iPad, or new TV? Give a ticket for drawing to both the person who demonstrated the core value, and the co-worker who took the time to submit a form recognizing the person and what they did; the fact that one did something and the other recognized it as a core value reinforces the culture so both are entered into the drawing.
Which Behaviors Are Tolerated?
If your core value is Be Considerate of Others, but you have an individual who is prone to raising their voice, denigrating others, and you do not correct that behavior or have a conversation about it, you are tolerating that behavior. By tolerating a competing behavior, you dilute the strength of the core value and weaken your culture…each and every time to an increasing extent.
Keep in mind, the more you tolerate that unacceptable behavior and allow it to recur, the more THAT becomes the core value. Remember, you have a culture whether or not it is the one you desire. To maintain and strengthen the one you want, you must be purposeful about championing it.
How To Measure The Existing Culture
You can measure the existing culture by simply tracking the stories of core values recognized, and the frequency with which contrasting behaviors are addressed. Additionally, there are good and bad surveys to evaluate this. Management Research Group has a fabulous tool that measures how employees perceive the existing leadership practices; as we look at those practices or behaviors, we can map that back to core values to see if they’re in alignment. If one or two are misaligned, you can place more emphasis and awareness on those in an upcoming quarter or month. Again, exercise the tips and techniques identified previously.
Many organization experienced some staff reduction during the pandemic shut down. During that time, it was rather easy to use the circumstances to part ways with employees who probably should have been separated long ago. As a result, there was a natural purification of some cultures, or as one client called it “the pandemic cleanse.” As we rebuild our organizations and position for growth, be committed to championing and defending your culture by hiring for culture fit, and remaining steadfast in your intolerance of the wrong behaviors. The rewards of a fabulous place to work with people who thoroughly enjoy each other and the successes you accumulate will be endless.
So, what steps are you going to take to change your culture?