Culture is not about control.
Culture is not about a single opinion.
Culture is not to be used as a tool to manipulate people.
When aiming to create and discover culture the following paragraph is an important foundation. It can be used when shifting from clarity to traction; shifting from traction to an environment where there is alignment between the behaviours and the attitudes of your organisation, group, team or tribe.
“Culture is best defined as “How we do things around here.” It’s the link between vision, mindset and behaviour. It’s the glue that connects what we declare we are to how we adjust our thinking and doing. Culture is the visible manifestation of invisible convictions and commitments. Culture is the explicit expression of the way your team agrees you will make your vision a reality.”
If ‘creating and discovering your culture’ is stage one, then the work of ‘deepening and protecting your culture’ naturally follows on. When a team believes they have uncovered the operating system that captures who they are (or must be to accomplish the mission), the next responsibility is making the culture a normal part of how things happen.
Recently in one of my local supermarkets I’ve noticed a shift. When I ask for some help to find an item, the team members have begun to walk me to my destination. This has happened every time without fail. At the local hardware store each team member greets customers and looks them in the eye as they pass by. A friendly greeting; personalised ushering to the right aisle; a returned phone call from you insurance company. These are small yet significant behavioural choices that serve the momentum and reputation of your organisation. Or, conversely, tear it down.
I lead a fantastic local church and one of the things we have committed to doing differently over the last five years is summarised by the phrase ‘do what we say we are going to do’. Simply put – when we commit to a course of action in our community we do it and update people as we go. That’s culture in action. That’s culture getting deeper. And when it doesn’t happen, there needs to be a way to protect the culture you have chosen.
Imagine you’re the coach of a sporting team and a new way of playing is being introduced. You’d need to make sure everyone is clear on what is changing. Be clear on what those changes mean for each team member. Have some feedback on the way each team member intends to implement the playbook. At that time you’re ready to run some drills, learn the new skills and work out what levels of competency are present. Remember, practice DOES NOT make perfect. Practice makes permanent. When you as the coach are satisfied the team understands how to play the game the way you’ve agreed, play the game and assess how each team member contributes, performs and adapts. Future huddles are to be used for analysis, debriefing, guidance and focusing on how you’ve all agreed the game is to be played.
This is what deepening and protecting culture is all about. When you’re clear on how you want to play the game, let your team play all out while you invest your energy into protecting your team culture.
Short sidebar. Deepening and protecting your culture must never be at the expense of two things. The first is real outcomes. Culture is a servant to vision, not the other way round. If you are moving further away from generating real results, step up and focus on fixing that. Secondly, deepening and protecting your culture cannot be at the expense of innovation. Be careful not to be so enamoured with how you are operating that you miss the opportunities to innovate, collaborate and explore new territory.
When you are looking to deepen and protect your culture keep these five steps in mind.
Have the “What I make this to mean” conversation.
When you’ve gotten clear on your culture it’s essential that you take the time to let team members share what they are taking each commitment to mean. This is where you learn from each other specifically how the words and phrases you have chosen influence each person’s behaviour. Encourage people to share freely and openly; it’s a time when everyone listens.
This is critical to creating a deeper culture in the sense that it allows people to share openly and honestly how these commitments will be translated into real life. Hearing the similarities and differences allows for deeper, more engaging conversations and positions you as the leader to ask more questions, give greater clarification and shape more meaningful behavioural commitments.
Get personal, and team buy-in to the game plan.
Skilled leaders guide their teams through deeper levels of buy-in to the “way things are done around here”. It’s your role to help people see the importance of consistency, the significance of their role and the impact of working together. You know what the cost is when the plan doesn’t work out, or goes slightly of track. This is why commitment is so important.
At this point it’s time to simply ask. Look each team member in the eye, and ask them if they are willing to fully engage with where you all have decided to go. Ask each team member to make that same commitment to one another, in front of one another. Done well it is a powerful bonding experience.
This serves two important purposes. Firstly it creates the environment where verbal declarations and commitments can be made. Never underestimate the power in an ‘out loud’ declaration. It can shift the atmosphere of a team; it can galvanise direction, and it fires up both the mind and the heart around what is being committed to.
Secondly, this serves as the basis for accountability. When you sign up to be what the team is choosing to be, you also agree to the accountability that comes when that goal is not attained. A challenging, yet essential, part of protecting culture.
Celebrate the behaviours that reflect your culture.
In order to champion, reinforce, deepen and protect your culture use this rule of thumb: ‘What gets rewarded gets done’. Be explicit about celebrating the behaviours that deepen culture, that serve vision, that reflect all that you want to be and more. These behaviours need to be called out and held up as THE examples of who we are and why.
The role of the leader is to create the environment where people can be celebrated. Lead the way in lavish, outrageous, consistent affirmation of positive contribution. Catch people doing the right thing. Tell others and praise them in front of their friends.
One lesson learned in this process is the importance of specificity. The more specific you can be with your praise (and the clearer you can be with how this deepens and protects culture) the more meaningful the experience is for the hearer.
Create a rhythm of improvement versus fear of failure.
When you’re coaching a team the goal is never perfection. It’s progress. It’s noticeable improvements over time. It’s individuals and teams getting better. Playing better, training better, moving more resolutely towards mission achievement.
Leaders create environments that ultimately self-manage. Leaders create leaders that are able to instantly and intuitively reflect on whether or not they hit the mark. You do this by focusing on constant improvement rather than fear of failure. In fact, leaders I know WANT their teams to experience failure so that they are able to develop the capacity and skills to learn the lessons.
Learn to self-reflect. Be excruciatingly honest about the outcome and how it stacks up against the goal. Honest responsibility comes from how each team member contributed to the situation. Doing all this in a culture of improvement will, over time, encourage robust reflection and lessons that come from the bottom up, that readily serve the team. See everything as an opportunity to learn; as a possibility to embrace; as a conversation to respect. You never know what’s hiding in the wings of a courageous conversation.
Exit people who are consistently at cross-purposes with your culture.
After two decades of leadership there is one thing I know. If a team member chooses not to embrace and reflect the culture then you have no choice but to graciously exit them.
Sounds harsh? Until you consider the cost of NOT doing it.
You can teach a person new skills. You will find it a lot harder to get them to embrace a culture against their will. Good leaders don’t want to do that anyway. Good leaders want to discover and gather the people who will lean in to who you are becoming, deeply reflect the behaviours you’ve committed to, and have the courage to protect what that means.
The ones that don’t want that can find another tribe.
When you discover your culture you reveal what was already there.
When you create your culture you boldly shape the future.
When you deepen your culture you shape and focus behaviours.
When you protect your culture you courageously declare what your tribe stands for.
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