Have you ever worked with someone who was not only a high performer (technically skilled at their job) but also a champion of vision, mission and values? These “high-performing culture champions” are perhaps the most critical asset that any organization can attract and retain, and this article will help you identify them and take steps within your team to cultivate more people just like them.
But first…what, exactly, is culture? According to Wikipedia;
“Organizational culture encompasses values and behaviours that contribute to the unique social and psychological environment of an organization…. it is also the pattern of such collective behaviors and assumptions that are taught to new organizational members as a way of perceiving and, even, thinking and feeling.”
Values and behaviours. The critical (yet often overlooked) glue that holds organizations together in the face of growth or challenge. The drivers of employee engagement, attraction, retention and performance. And, unfortunately, often left to chance and the whims of individual leaders and their teams to operationalize.
Another way to look at culture, and one that might be more useful, is that culture is established by the “worst behaviour a leader tolerates”. Because values are just words (until our actions give them meaning), culture can be most quickly understood by stepping back and actually observing the behaviours of a team, the quality and quantity of interactions, the tone in people’s voices, how they handle (or don’t handle) conflict and how they celebrate (or don’t celebrate) successes and failures.
There’s a lot of research suggesting that people do better under certain conditions (psychological safety being a primary one), and you can listen to our podcast on the Three Great States, but at the end of the day, from a culture perspective, it’s most important that your team;
- Has a shared sense of the vision, mission and values of the organization AND
- Understands the day-to-day behaviours and actions that contribute to making those values real.
And therein lies the problem for most organizations. Culture tends to be amorphous, implicit and poorly articulated. Accidental. It rarely resonates with the values on the wall or the mission statement on the website. Too often, individual leaders are left to build cultures within their team, which can evolve into something quite different (both positively and negatively) from the culture of the organization as a whole.
At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter which words are up on the wall, or advertised on the website. What matters is that you have a conscious and intentional culture, one that’s explicitly articulated and well understood, and permeates the organization right down to “how we’re going to talk to each other when we disagree” or “why your cell phone needs to stay off the table when we’re in a meeting”.
The 7 Culture Questions
- Do you know what your core values are?
- Could your employees recognize them AND point to behaviours that are congruent or incongruent with them?
- Are they explicitly stated in different ways and in different places, beyond being displayed on your website or boardroom wall?
- Are your values used as filters for decision making? Hiring processes? Staff performance?
- Do you celebrate people when they demonstrate alignment with the values and behaviours that you’re hoping for?
- Are they an integral part of your interviewing, on-boarding and orientation process?
- Do you have dedicated time at senior levels in the organization to reflect and keep a pulse on values and culture?
All roads lead to leadership, and one of the fundamental jobs of leadership is aligning your team with the vision, mission, values and strategy of the organization. Too often we unknowingly focus all of our energy on strategy, forgetting that “culture” is actually the result of alignment with vision, mission and values.
Beyond answering the above questions, and taking appropriate action based on what you find, the teams that have the highest proportion of “high-performing culture champions” are the teams that make “vision, mission and values” conversations a priority.
Teams that aren’t afraid to give tough or uncomfortable feedback to members (and leaders!) that might be demonstrating behaviours that are incongruent with their values. Teams that take setbacks and failures as opportunities to learn, grow and be better. Teams that celebrate their wins, and then move the yardstick to something more ambitious.
Teams that all of us would love to be a part of.