6 Ways for Leaders to Create a Healthy Organizational Culture
If I walk up to a frontline employee and ask them what the culture is like at their company, would they be able to easily articulate it in a sentence? If not, you do not have a culture, but more of some statements that leaders like to claim. Some leaders will say that they do set a culture with their team and they will deflect the blame on middle or low-level management for lack of bringing the culture to life. However, it is the person at the top who makes or breaks the organizational culture.
One of the most significant examples of modern-day culture in an organization is the New England Patriots of the National Football League. Since Bill Belichick took over as the head coach in 2000, the team has won 219 games and lost 76. This record gives them a winning percentage of 71.4, which is simply astronomical in a professional league like the NFL. The most impressive part is the fact that before Belichick's arrival, from 1990-2000 The Patriots only won 68 games and lost 92, giving them a winning percentage of only 42.5. So, what changed?
Where the answer lies
What makes this organization stand out is their ability to take the talent from other teams that may have struggled in the past; and by including them in their organization they start performing exceptionally well. How are they able to do this consistently? Culture.
Their leader, the head coach, just like the CEO of a great organization installed the right mindset for them to believe in as a unit. Then over the years, other team members picked it up, and now the entire team enforces it.
If you want to set a great culture, you must focus on a general formula and custom tailor it to your organization, but you must own it as the leader of your team. There is no one-size-fits-all approach, but there are recurring themes that we will look at and how the leader needs to implement them.
It all starts and ends with the leader's vision. How clearly can you articulate the vision to your team? Is it put together in a way to excite and make people dream of a better future? Does that vision make the team members want to give their 100 per cent to achieve it? Is it simple enough to be able to be understood by all levels of employees and customers? Most importantly, does that vision intrinsically motivate your team in building purpose and accomplishing mastery? If not, you need to think about finding ways to create one that works.
Values are the foundation of what a culture is all about. When a team member has to make a decision, they should be able to quickly fall back on organizational values to serve them as the checks and balances. They create synergy among your teams and customers. I encourage leaders not merely to make these up themselves but to enlist the help of their team.
Our values do not mean anything if they are not brought to life by daily behaviours. For example, if you believe in leading in a way that gives your employees freedom, they should not fear to ask for a day off. One of the best places to investigate what may be amiss is what you praise as a leader. You say you want a culture of happy employees, but you keep praising people working 60-hour weeks. This kind of behaviour will not create a great culture. How about you applaud those who accomplish a lot in less time and take care of themselves?
Your people are the bricks to build the culture you desire. You need the right shape and size to build what you are looking for. This needs to start from hiring practices. If you employ a bunch of sharks that are great performers as individuals but do not work well with others, you can expect to have no good culture in the organization. Hire people for motivational fit and then develop them into future leaders.
As the leader, you must set the narrative for your team. What is the story that is being told about your organization? Have you done an excellent job of showing how your company is making a positive impact on the community? Do you discuss the history and roots of the organization and how it came about? Do you discuss the why behind its creation? Does each team member feel part of the story? If not, these are all things you must do as a leader to ensure the right stories are being told all around your organization.
In a healthy culture, there must be open lines of communication to be able to fix things before they become detrimental to the company. Communication must flow well in a downward fashion, but most importantly, employees need to feel confident and secure that they can communicate upwardly. Ask yourself, as a leader, do your people feel comfortable correcting you, when needed?
These are all important points, but none of them will matter if there is no consistency. No matter what it is you decide to be part of your culture, you must stay consistent with it day in and day out.