Three Key Ways Leaders Build Effective Culture

Second in a series excerpted from his book FOSTERING CULTURE, A Leader’s Guide to Purposefully Shaping Culture

by Shane Jackson

Early in my book, I detail how members of the group will join or leave the group based on their individual alignment with the group’s values and beliefs.

If you look at most of the literature written about corporate culture, the vast majority of it differentiates “good” culture from “bad” culture. But applying labels like “good” and “bad” to a culture requires us to make a judgment about that organization based on our personal values and beliefs.

The more relevant question isn’t whether a group’s culture is good or bad, but how effective it is in accomplishing its purpose.

A strong culture is more effective than a weak one at accomplishing its purpose.

Cultural strength is a measure of the intensity of cultural identity and alignment. Strong cultures have highly adopted, consistently shared values and beliefs among its members. In contrast, weak cultures have little adoption of shared beliefs where disparate individual values often trump group values.
Strong cultures are able to achieve the goals of the group better than weak cultures because strong cultures lead to increased loyalty among members and increased consistency in the way things are done.

In fact, the loyalty of group members is perhaps the best measure of cultural strength. Strong cultures successfully achieve their purpose, so its members are loyal because their needs are met. Weak cultures are signified by a revolving door of group membership and little adherence to cultural norms by the members who are there.

Quality is based on consistency. How consistent is this product with the other products? How consistently do members of a group handle similar situations?

When there is great alignment and adoption of values and beliefs, there is a higher propensity for things to be done in a similar fashion. As an example, people in our company have a high alignment around the value of serving others and the belief that providing a good outcome for the customer leads to long-term business success. As a result, customers are highly likely to receive the same quality of customer service, no matter who they interact with in our business.

How can a leader create a strong culture?

People’s decisions are based on their values and beliefs, so the only way to change their decisions is to change their values and beliefs. This, of course, is not easy. But when you view your job as a leader through that lens, it provides a tremendous amount of clarity about how to be effective as a leader.

  • It is incredibly difficult, nay impossible, to change someone’s core values or highly defended beliefs. A much easier way to build a group of people who agree on values and beliefs is to start with individuals who already agree on values and beliefs. This sounds ridiculously obvious, but in fact, it requires leaders to change the way they think about hiring. The focus should be to find people who identify with the company’s values and beliefs who are also technically competent. This is the first application of the culture model.
  • The second application of the culture model involves how you spend your time with people in your business. My job as the leader of the company is to make sure our people understand our vision (what), mission (why), strategy (how), and how our values and beliefs impact the way those are executed. Every interaction I have with people in the company is intentional in executing that job.
    So, when I am in a one-on-one meeting with a leader discussing strategy, my goal is to help create clarity around how our beliefs impact that situation. When I interact with someone who is on the front line of our business, I try to discuss how our values impact the way we deal with customers. When I send out companywide communications about a given situation, I emphasize how our values were upheld in that situation. When I speak to new hires, I discuss our mission and how it impacts what they will experience as a part of the company.
  • The third application involves how you define and measure success.  As the old adage goes, what gets rewarded gets done. If the only way you measure success is based on the bottom line, guess what you really value? You can’t say you believe in making the customer happy and never measure or reward customer satisfaction.
    This applies at both the company level and the individual level. We measure our leaders against our values and a multifaceted definition of success. To be promoted in our organization you have to be successful at all of them. Again, if you give the highest profile to the person in your company who drives the most sales, but treats others with disrespect, everyone else knows what they really have to do to succeed.

You as a leader determine the culture for your team. The way you communicate, the direction you give, what you reward (even if just with your praise), everything you do is creating the atmosphere on your team. And just like a founder, there is much value for you in understanding the culture model and creating clarity on values and beliefs within your team in order to impact behavior.

Whether they realize it or not, every leader is directly impacting, if not setting, the culture of their team. The only question is whether you are doing so intentionally or accidentally.

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