The performance and engagement of a team is a reflection of the culture leaders create.
This way of thinking is dramatically different than how most managers think about culture. It’s often called “soft” or “moderately important.” In reality, culture is anything but these things. In Building the Best, I defined culture as “The shared values and beliefs that guide thinking and behavior.”
Jonathan Gannon, the new head coach of the NFL’s Arizona Cardinals, agrees. In a monumental effort to turn around a team that finished 4-13 last year, Gannon said, “Culture is how you behave on a daily basis. You’re either behaving in a winning way, or you are not.”
Culture is how you behave on a daily basis. You’re either behaving in a winning way, or you are not.
One of the significant differences between sports and business is there is a winner and a loser at the end of a game, making it a finite game. Business is more of an infinite game, it’s rarely about winning or losing and more about continual growth and progress. However, Gannon’s idea can be applied to business because even though there might not be a winner and loser, there is winning behavior and losing behavior. There is professional behavior and amateur behavior. There is elite behavior and lazy behavior.
Most employees want to be a part of an elite culture, but organizational leaders lack the knowledge and ability to make it happen. Instead, they pawn off the responsibility of culture to a company committee, HR team, or worse, ignore it altogether.
If only more leaders grasped the leadership principle I shared in a workshop this week
Culture starts with leaders, and their people prove it.
Said differently, leaders create the culture, which ultimately becomes the result. Embracing the responsibility that you both shape and impact the culture of your organization, team, or family is one of the most critical mindset shifts in any leader’s journey.
What Holds Leaders Back from Committing to Culture?
Like many things, most leaders and organizations start with great intentions, and culture is no different. But when immediate results aren’t realized, people default to their old way of leading.
When immediate results aren’t realized, people default to their old way of behaving.
The ramification of leaders not focusing on culture is steep. Disengaged employees are 3.8 times more likely to cite organizational culture as a reason for leaving than engaged counterparts. Companies with a strong culture saw a 4x increase in revenue growth compared to those without. Highly engaged teams have a 21% higher profitability rate.
While each organization is a little different, the commitment to culture separates those who adopt and sustain it from those who do not. Leaders that commit to culture have higher revenue, more engaged teams, and lower voluntary turnover.
The Four Elements That Makeup Culture
Whether you are the CEO of a Fortune 500 company, lead a small team, or guide a family, four consistent elements make up any culture.
Before people can perform at their best, they must feel safe and protected. How does the current environment make your people feel? First, are the working conditions physically safe? Second, do team members feel psychologically safe to share ideas and feeling without fear of judgment or repercussions?
Inclusivity and people feeling like they are a part of something bigger than themselves help feed productivity and innovation. Ultimately, people want to feel understood and have a sense of belonging.
Does each person on your team feel like they are integral to your ultimate success? At the center of unity is mutual respect amongst team members and a feeling of belonging.
Beliefs drive people’s behaviors, and behaviors drive results. If your team’s beliefs are optimistic, the chances of a good things happening in the future are drastically higher than the alternative. Positivity is driven from the top-down, and it’s contagious. The late Colin Powell said it well in his book, It Worked for Me, “Perpetual optimism is a force multiplier.” The best leaders know that achieving higher success levels is impossible without optimism and belief.
Energy keeps your team going and impacts the speed at which people perform. High energy yields high performance. You can always tell the energy of a team by what they’re doing midday. Have they settled into complacency, or are they revving their engines to power throughout the day?
How to Create an Excellent Culture
If you or your organization is committed to creating an excellent culture, here are a few strategies to adopt.
- Start with Core Values
It is a lot easier to create an excellent culture when the core values of the team or organization have definitions and are mutually agreed upon. Core values are a group’s fundamental beliefs and guiding principles. They must start being evaluated in the interview process and be embedded in the Onboarding process.
It’s easy for an organization to say they have core values, but I look for proof beyond a few words written on walls or on an “about us” page. A good barometer is when leaders not only live them out consistently but celebrate those who choose to live them out daily.
Defining core values is less critical than exercising them.
If you have core values, put them to the test. Ask your team the following:
- Can you define our core values?
- Can you tell me a time recently when I lived them out?
If you haven’t looked at your core values or talked about the previously defined values of your organization or team in a while, don’t do another thing before you do.
2. Create a Culture Award
Most organizations have awards for top performers and top salespeople. However, just because you might be a great individual contributor doesn’t mean you help improve the culture. To further embed an elite culture into the fabric of your people, create a culture award.
Take James Franklin, the head football coach at Penn State University, as an example. Hired in 2014, one of the first things Franklin did was establish four core values for his new team. His entire coaching staff and team members were measured against these values. They were plastered on walls, shirts, and in team binders. Franklin knew it was not the words themselves that were important, but rather the living out of those values.
To help embed the values into the culture, he knew he had to reward, recognize and talk about them in a public setting. Each week during the season, Franklin gathered the entire team and gave out an award to one player in front of the entire team who best lived out the core values. It didn’t take long for the behavior on the team to shift. Players, hungry for their peers’ respect and recognition, wanted to win the culture award. They made choices to live out the core values in and outside their football duties.
The moral of the story is to create a culture award on your team or organization for the member who best lives out the culture on an ongoing basis to sustain excellence. The best ones are names after a former colleague who embodied the values so it can live on long after you’re gone.
3. Coach and Give Feedback Often
It is challenging to sustain culture and energy. One of the best ways is to lean into people who are having challenges. Instead of passing judgment on team members who struggle to perform and contribute to the culture, get curious and start coaching.
Instead of passing judgment on team members who struggle to perform, get curious and start coaching.
Bob Nardelli said, “Without a coach, people will never reach their maximum capability,” and he couldn’t be more correct. Instead of witnessing behavior that isn’t in alignment with your culture, part of your job as a leader is to have a difficult conversation and bring the behavior to the surface that needs to change.
Each organization and its leaders will create an excellent culture in slightly different ways. Regardless if you establish core values and principles or some alternative method. The key is that you must care about your culture because the performance and engagement of a team are a reflection of the culture leaders create.
The only question remains: what are you doing proactively to mold and shape your culture in the direction you want it to go?
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About the Author John Eades is the CEO of LearnLoft, a leadership development company helping executives and managers to lead their best. He was named one of LinkedIn’s Top Voices in Management & Workplace. John is also the author of Building the Best: 8 Proven Leadership Principles to Elevate Others to Success. You can follow him on Instagram @johngeades.