6 Key Elements of a Healthy Culture

culture question

Like Where You Work

The authors of The Culture Question: How to Create a Workplace Where People Like to Work believe that everyone should be able to like where they work. This is a compelling vision, and after reading the book I reached out to two of the four authors, ACHIEVE CEO, Randy Grieser, and ACHIEVE Managing Director, Eric Stutzman, to learn more about their thoughts.

 

Culture is the relational environment in which we work, and it’s how we work together.

 

Culture: How People Behave and Interact

What is your definition of culture?

Workplace culture is really about how people behave and interact. This includes how decisions are made, how disagreements are voiced, how conflict is resolved, and how people connect when they pass in the hall. Culture is the relational environment in which we work, and it’s how we work together. The simplest way we’ve come to describe culture is, “It’s the way things work around here.”

While culture is not physical, you can feel and see it in the language we use, our rituals, and the stories we tell. Even simple things like whether people feel comfortable displaying personal items on their desk or walls can tell you a lot about an organization’s culture.

We describe culture as being on a spectrum between healthy and unhealthy. Healthy cultures are full of energy and productivity, whereas unhealthy cultures produce unmotivated employees. Most organizations are not completely healthy or entirely unhealthy, but rather lie somewhere in the middle. Or there are parts of the culture that are good, and parts that are bad.

 

One of the hallmarks of a healthy culture is that leaders communicate change well.

 

Why is workplace culture important?

The goal of most workplaces is to get things done. When we have a healthy workplace culture, it sets the stage for doing good work. In our opinion, culture is the most significant factor that influences work relationships, employee happiness, and productivity. We agree with the phrase attributed to Peter Drucker: “Culture eats strategy for breakfast.” You can have the most incredible strategy imaginable, but if you don’t have a healthy culture in which to execute your strategy, it’s just words on a page.

In our opinion, nothing impacts employee engagement more than workplace culture – and almost every leader and human resource manager we know would like to see engagement increase. The secret to improving employee engagement is culture.

 

A healthy culture is much like a car that requires regular, ongoing maintenance so it can continue to serve its purpose.

 

What does it look like when leaders truly prioritize culture?

As leaders, we are all stretched in multiple directions. As such, it is tempting to focus on all our other operational demands at the expense of culture – culture becomes something we will eventually get to once other priorities are dealt with.

Healthy cultures require intention and effort. When leaders prioritize culture, it becomes part of the daily and weekly conversations they have with others – culture may even become the agenda item for a meeting. The good news is that when operational challenges emerge in organizations with healthy cultures, everyone is more willing and able to rise to the occasion.

 

Don’t miss:  Turn Your Mistakes Into Gold. Skip’s appearance on Inspire Nation in video or audio.

 

Common Leadership Mistakes 

How to Manage to Make a Difference

make a difference

Make a Difference

If you’re a new manager, you may find yourself in unfamiliar territory faster than you can imagine. How do you handle the gossiping employee? Or the top performer about to jump ship? How do you develop a high-performance team?

Larry Sternberg and Kim Turnage have literally packed numerous tips, strategies, tools and techniques for managers into the pages of their new book, Managing to Make a Difference: How to Engage, Retain, & Develop Talent for Maximum Performance. I recently spoke with Larry about their new work.

 

“We can change the world and make it a better place.” -Nelson Mandela

 

Why Employee Orientation is All Wrong

Your book starts out saying that we have employee orientation all wrong. We too often start with scare tactics and explaining what will result in termination. What does this do to new employees?

Frankly, the gratuitous negativity turns people off. The new employer is building the case for termination on day one! Also, it’s just plain boring. Negative and boring are not strategies to increase engagement and positivity about starting a new job.

You might say that these kinds of statements are necessary in our litigious society. We happen to disagree with that point of view. But even if we were to agree that they are necessary, they diminish your efforts to engage and retain people.

Imagine you’re dating someone, and you start a discussion about being exclusive and moving in together. The other person replies, “I’d love to do that! But first I want to make sure you understand the reasons I might decide to end this relationship.” How would that make you feel?

 

Go Ahead: Get Close to Your Team

I loved your advice on getting close to people. I’ve long advocated this. What are the benefits of getting close to people at work?

When you cultivate close, positive relationships with your employees (and among your employees), every employee spends his day with people he really likes and cares about. This increases job satisfaction, engagement and morale. Teamwork improves because employees are more likely to go the extra mile for people they care about. When problems occur, employees with good relationships will resolve them more easily. A leader who has close relationships with her employees can exert more influence on them without using her power. For instance, when she asks for extra effort, they’re more likely to give it.

 

Leadership Tip: the closer you are to someone, the easier it is to influence that person.

 

Talk about the importance of setting expectations.

Lead True by Putting People First

Leadership Compass

Put People, Organization and Community First

No matter the industry, leaders face the same types of challenges. It’s a leader’s personal compass that makes all the difference.

Jeff Thompson, MD is chief executive officer emeritus at Gundersen Health System. He’s a pediatrician, an author, and a speaker on building a mission-driven culture. During his tenure, Gundersen Health was recognized for its quality care. Dr. Thompson was awarded the White House Champions of Change award in 2013.

I recently spoke to him about his new book on leadership, Lead True: Live Your Values, Build Your People, Inspire Your Community.

 

Leadership Tip: Show people you are there to build them, not rule them.

 

Give Others Courage

You share the dramatic story of you intubating a baby, risking your own career to save a life. There are so many leadership lessons in this story. But I want to ask this: how do you teach others to make these decisions?

No leader can always be everywhere. No rule book can cover every situation. To prepare the staff first you need to believe you are there to build them, not rule them. Holding people accountable is looking backwards…being responsible for their success is looking forward. Give them the tools to make these decisions without you. You need to set a pattern of clarity of the values of the organization, the priority of service above hierarchy, service above self, long-term good over short-term self-protection. When they see you live this, when they see you recognize this in others and support this level of behavior, they will have the courage to do the same.

 

“You want to invite new ideas, not new rules.” –Dan Heath

 

Courage and discipline. You linked these together. Tell us why and how they relate.

Aristotle is attributed to have said, “Courage is the first of human virtues because it makes all others possible.”  Courage isn’t the absence of fear, it just means fear doesn’t get to make the choice. Having courage is a great start….without courage so little will move forward. But discipline gives courage legs. It focuses and moves the work forward. It keeps you from letting your courage make a stand but accomplish little.

For example…those protesting pipelines and coal burning are very courageous…but if they also have the discipline to lead the conservation effort…they will force the market pressures to limit new pipelines and coal burning. Courage plus discipline will have a much greater effect.

Or you may have bold clear no compromise rules in your organization about how all staff will be treated or how gender and diversity will be respected. Clear, courageous but not effective unless you have the discipline to live by it when one of your high performing stars behaves badly. You need the discipline to follow up on your bold stance. No one’s ego can be more important than the well-being of the staff or organization.

 

“Good leaders don’t tell people what to do, they give teams capability and inspiration.” –Jeffrey Immelt

 

Be a Humble Leader

Creating a High-Trust Culture for High Performance

 

How to Increase Trust

 

Why is culture so difficult to change?

Why are so many employees disengaged?

What should a leader do when she arrives at a company that is struggling?

 

The founding director of the Center for Neuroeconomics Studies recently wrote a book, Trust Factor: The Science of Creating High-Performance Companies to answer these and other questions. Paul J. Zak, PhD, is also a professor at Claremont Graduate University. He recently answered some of my questions about his extensive research into trust. His book is fascinating and contributes to the body of work on trust and organizational culture.

 

Survey of 200,000 employees: 71% of companies have mediocre to poor cultures.

 

Spot the Signs of a Low-Trust Culture

In one part of the book, you tell a story of walking into an office full of cobwebs, old furniture, and a struggling culture. What are some of the signs of a low-trust culture?

Distrust drains employees’ energy, so people move slow, think slow, and lack a passion for their jobs.  Organizations with low trust also have lower profits, so offices often look out-of-date, even while new employees show up as turnover tends to be high.  We have also shown that people take more sick days when they work at low-trust companies, so one sees empty desks.  All these factors are signs of a low-trust syndrome and a downward cycle of productivity, innovation, and profits.

 

“High-trust companies invest in employee health and productivity.” –Paul J. Zak

 

Why Healthy Cultures are Based on Trust

trust factorWhy is a healthy culture based on trust so vitally important to its success?

Companies are, first and foremost, people. As social creatures, we naturally form teams to accomplish goals together.  Extensive research shows that teams are more effective when they have a clear objective and when team members are trustworthy. Trust reduces the frictions that can arise in teams so getting things done takes less effort and as a result more and better work is done.  By measuring brain activity while people work, we’ve shown that people are more relaxed when they trust their colleagues. They innovate more and shed the stress from work faster than those in low-trust companies.  Creating a culture of trust provides powerful leverage on performance because it harnesses what our brains are designed to do: cooperate with others in teams.  And the neuroscience I’ve done shows how to create a culture of trust in a system so it has the maximum effect on brain and behavior.

 

Workers in high trust organizations are paid an average of $6,450 more.

 

I love the biological explanation of the Golden Rule. Explain the connection between oxytocin and trust.