How well do people across your organization treat each other?

When I ask clients and keynote attendees this question, the answer is all too common: More than 60% say, “Not very well.” I hear that people dismiss, demean and discount others’ ideas, efforts and accomplishments – every day. I hear that praise and recognition are rare – despite people who make genuine contributions to organizational success.

How can leaders eliminate destructive patterns of behavior and replace them with cooperative, validating patterns of behavior? Your senior leaders might not be ready for a significant culture change initiative, but they might be willing to engage in a less structured approach.

One client has a simple yet powerful approach changed the culture in its remote division, which it calls its “people principles” process. This operation was located 1,000 miles away from the corporate headquarters and had fewer than 60 total team leaders and team members. Having these leaders under one roof helped its people principles take hold. The division engaged with every team leader and team member face to face, across three shifts, every day.

These people principles were not mandated by headquarters. They were created entirely – and organically – by the division leadership team to address inconsistent results and disrespectful interactions across their organization.

Once these concepts were explained to all leaders and team members, they were formulated into these 12 formal principles:

  • I always put safety first.
  • I embrace my leaders and peers as mature and responsible individuals.
  • I build relationships daily based on mutual trust and respect.
  • I recognize the skills and contributions of every leader and peer.
  • I treat everyone fairly, honestly and with dignity.
  • I create a positive, blame-free and accountable environment every day.
  • I am a vital part of “one team” working toward common goals.
  • I share information freely and actively engage in open communication.
  • I contribute to our learning organization with leaders as coaches.
  • I actively seek out ongoing feedback and engage in personal development.
  • I proactively engage in the timely resolution of differences.
  • I contribute to our strategy of continuous improvement.

Every member of the division signed a commitment declaration that stated, “My signature below certifies that I have read, understand, and commit to demonstrating these people principles at work daily, and it is my responsibility to contact my direct supervisor or Human Resources if I do not understand any part of these people principles.” Once people agreed to these principles, they were expected to demonstrate them. Leaders, working as coaches, modeled these principles consistently, which boosted credibility for the process.

Training also played a huge role in this initiative’s success. Everyone needed help setting aside selfish and demeaning patterns. Leaders and team members needed skill-building and practice in new ways of operating together. For example, everyone was trained in how to conduct effective challenging conversations and how to praise and recognize both results and respect (without teasing!). Leaders were trained in coaching skills.

Within six months, division leadership reported less drama, greater engagement, better problem-solving, happier customers and better results. This division was seen as having the healthiest culture of any of the organization’s divisions, including its corporate headquarters.

The people principles process wasn’t complicated, but it wasn’t easy. It took time, clarity of expectations, validation of aligned behavior, redirection of misaligned behavior and more. It took a commitment to results and respect – and it paid off in spades.