I appreciate the opportunity to engage with senior leaders who are genuinely interested in creating purposeful, positive, productive work cultures. Recently, a senior leader asked me if I’d be willing to do a day-long culture training for his executive team. My initial reaction was, “No. Culture can’t be refined with a training program.” I bit my tongue, however, and asked what outcomes this leader wanted from a culture initiative.
The more we talked, the clearer his desired outcome was. The company’s work culture was being stressed by growth, and more growth was coming, which would stress its culture even more in the coming months and years. The company had opened new offices across the country, and the cultures in those offices did not reflect headquarters’ desired culture. The leader’s primary desired outcome was a formalized culture that built on the solid culture the company had developed and that was scalable and measurable.
He shared that past training programs were well received, but the models and techniques from those programs were not used in the organization today. He understood that a culture training for executives would likely have the same effect: Those senior leaders would enjoy the training, but they would not embrace new practices or behaviors.
The most beneficial part of our discussion was about measurement. The organization measures results effectively. Performance dashboards monitor progress to date every week, and, like many organizations, the company does not apply the same discipline to measuring the degree of respect, the quality of relationships or the health of its work culture.
I shared two different ways the organization could address this gap. First, by formalizing the desired culture – in the form of an organizational constitution – the senior leadership team can define the company’s servant purpose (its reason for being that describes how it improves customers’ quality of life daily), values and behaviors, strategies, and goals. Simply publishing these details won’t improve the culture or measure its quality. Instead, an organizational constitution sets a high standard – which can be measured. Specifically, when values are defined in behavioral terms, they are observable, tangible, and measurable.
Here’s an example. If one of your company values is teamwork, and one of your valued behaviors for this value is “I hold myself and others accountable for team commitments,” employees can rate leaders’ demonstration of that behavior in a survey. You can use a scale of 1 to 6 to rate these behaviors; a rating of 6 means the employee strongly agrees that the leader models the behavior, a rating of 5” rating means the employee agrees that the leader models the behavior, a “4” means they slightly agree, a “3” means they slightly disagree and so on. The only desirable scores are five and six.
Our sample valued behavior presents a challenge: It actually describes two different behaviors: the leader’s holding himself or herself accountable for team commitments and the leader’s holding others accountable for team commitments. It is a “two-tailed” survey question that cannot be easily answered; I might rate my boss a 6 on holding herself accountable but a 3 on holding others accountable.
You can solve this problem by separating the two contexts and asking one question about whether the leader holds himself or herself accountable for team commitments and a second question about whether the leader holds others accountable for team commitments. These questions are easier for employees to answer.
If you have four values with three behaviors each, you’ll have a dozen survey items (possibly a few more due to the “two-tailed” dynamic) that form the foundation for a values profile for each leader, with ratings provided by employees on values alignment.
Second, measuring the impact of their behaviors can give leaders undeniable data. An impact assessment helps leaders understand where they’re having a beneficial, constructive impact on others (direct and indirect reports, peers, etc.) and where they’re having a negative, defensive impact on others. Where leaders are having a defensive impact, they must modify their approach to have more of a constructive impact, which builds respect, confidence and performance in others over time.
With both of these tools – the values survey and a leadership impact assessment – leaders will gain a clear understanding of how well they’re modeling the company’s valued behaviors and having a constructive impact. These profiles also enable follow-up and coaching to help leaders align to your desired culture.
The company executive I spoke with is excited about the plan: a facilitated two-day retreat on culture refinement as well as a values survey and leadership impact assessment to help every leader model the desired culture in every interaction.