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 Brilliant Careers Are Made and Unmade

career derailers

The Right and Wrong Stuff

Most people don’t realize how easy it is to derail a career or to lose a job. Adding to the problem is that it is possible that your career has stalled without your knowledge, an unexpected plateau because of something you don’t know about. Maybe it’s because you’ve been labeled impulsive or not seen as a team player.

Whatever the reason, it’s important to pause and assess where you are so you can get back on track.

Carter Cast knows this firsthand. In a terrific new book, The Right and Wrong Stuff: How Brilliant Careers Are Made and Unmade, Carter sheds light on what causes careers to derail and others to soar. His advice is practical and actionable. Carter is a professor at Northwestern’s Kellogg School of Management, a former CEO, and a venture capitalist. I recently asked him to share some of his perspective.

 

Korn Ferry Research: people who overstate their abilities in 360-degree assessments are 6.2 times more likely to derail than those with accurate self-awareness

 

Would you share your own story of career derailment?

Back when Bill Clinton was president and I was a marketing manager within PepsiCo’s Frito Lay division, I found myself sitting in my boss Mike’s office for my annual performance review. I worried as he started the preamble, which was along the lines of, “This is going to hurt me more than it hurts you.” Mike didn’t bury the lead for long—soon he came right out and told me that senior management considered me unpromotable, which meant I was no longer on the fast track at Frito-Lay. He laid out a list of my offenses, littering his examples with words like “uncooperative,” “resistant to feedback from authority figures,” and “unmanageable.” He described my behavior in various situations, repeatedly pointing out times I circumnavigated the established processes and procedures and ignored the chain of command for the sake of expediency, or the times I quietly ignored his feedback and chose to do things my own way.

Thirty painful minutes later, as he was wrapping up, when Mike asked if I had anything to say for myself, I simply asked if I was being fired. (It sure felt like it.) He said, “No, but I don’t want you to work in my group any longer. You’ll need to look for another marketing position within the company.”

Eventually I found another boss and team to work with, but it was a humbling experience because as I talked to prospective bosses, I learned that I had a reputation problem. I was considered “difficult to manage.” I realized I lacked the self-awareness needed to change my behavior right away, so I went about doing so. I identified the circumstances that triggered my disruptive behavior (e.g. sitting in ponderous process meetings; being managed tightly by a very “participative” boss; being talked at by a verbose senior manager), and I steadily began to develop practical methods to better self-regulate and curb my tendency toward stupid, unnecessary insubordination. Over time, I was again considered to be a promotable employee, but it took a couple years to climb out of hole I’d dug for myself.

 

Career Fact: half to two-thirds of all managers will be fired, demoted, or plateau at some point.

 

Use Negative Feedback to Propel You Forward

Your story highlights negative feedback, and I was intrigued that you actually called your boss and had him give it to you again! How do you coach individuals to hear negative feedback and use it in the best way possible?

I must be a glutton for punishment. (I was a swimmer, so I’m fairly certain.) Yes, twenty years later, I called my old boss Mike to get some quotes for the book. And he gave them to me. Yikes. Even after all these years, when he spoke to me, about me circa 1995, I felt a wave of queasiness! Thirty-three year old Carter needed some tough love.

Phrases to Defuse Difficult Workplace Situations

Defuse conflict

Are you ever at a loss for words?

Do you approach a potentially volatile situation with trepidation because you don’t know what to say?

The Conflict Resolution Phrase Book by Barbara Mitchell and Cornelia Gamlem is for you.

It’s a handbook of sorts, a reference book, filled with clever phrases and questions all designed to help you in conflict situations.

After reading it, I decided to put it to use immediately. I read a few of the phrases before attending most of my meetings. What I found was that I was asking better questions and was a more focused listener.

I recently asked Barbara more about her work.

 

“Knowing when to fight is just as important as how.” –Terry Goodkind

 

Build Your Conflict Muscle

How do you best build the conflict muscle so that you don’t shy away from it?

Practice, practice, practice!  Many of us are uncomfortable with conflict to the point where we not just shy away from it—we run from it and give in rather than dealing with it. It takes courage and practice to have conflict muscle, but we also want people to know that not all conflict is “bad.”  Having differences of opinion can spur creativity and positive change in organizations and personal relationships.

 

Talk about the power of listening.

Most of us think we’re really good listeners, but what we really do is, while the other person is talking, we’re thinking about what we’re going to say when they stop speaking.  That’s not listening.  Listening is putting your own thoughts aside to focus on the words being said but also observing body language and facial expressions to really get what the person is saying.  Our ever-increasing virtual world makes listening even more difficult, so whenever possible, have difficult conversations face to face. But if you can’t be in the same place, use Facetime or Skype so least you can see each other. A good listener uses techniques like paraphrasing back what they heard to ensure both people are on the same wave length. Listening takes practice—just like any other communication form. We spend a lot time learning how to speak to be understood or how to write well but not much time learning how to listen.

 

“If I could solve all the problems myself, I would.” –Thomas Edison

 

Ask for Clarity

5 Break-Through Insights that Create a Meaningful Workplace

meaning
This is a guest post by Danny Gutknecht, CEO and Co-founder of Pathways, an advisory firm that helps organizations tap their potential. His new book is Meaning at Work – And Its Hidden Language.

 

Create a Meaningful Workplace

Organizations have blundered in their attempts to provide purpose and meaning for employees. But meaning and purpose are not something that companies can provide.

Meaning is a human need that runs an operating system intrinsic to itself. No one can plot it for us; we can’t download it and install it like an app. We can’t live up to or adopt values painted on the wall.

Until we understand the principles of how meaning works for the organization and for human beings, and implement processes that will allow meaning to occur, we’ll continue to experience the churn that comes from lack of alignment.

Consider these five break-through insights that can help create a meaningful workplace:

 

1. Learn how meaning works. 

Meaning is created daily through experience and interactions we have with everything in our lives. We have an inner dialogue with our work, relationships and organizations. Our meaning is the result of how we interpret and interact with our world. When work is meaningful, we strive to improve and engage more deeply with it. When we share meaning with a group or company, each is enhanced and grows. But make no mistake: meaning can’t be given; it can only be shared.

 

2. Make meaning the key to organizational excellence, and to personal excellence.

BE Aerospace won a contract to create a product with multiple iterations in a highly regulated environment. It hired a slew of top engineers in the UK, but the flow of engineers out the door was as steady as the flow coming in. It was killing the company’s ability to deliver. By interrogating and mining the meaning of the company, it became clear that the engineers who were leaving weren’t aligned with those who were staying, even though they thought they were. The message from management in the recruiting phase missed the essence of who they were. Those who left described the work as overwhelming, with impossible challenges and unsolvable problems. The ones who were engaged and loved what they did were fulfilled by the challenge. As one employee put it, “It’s like being dropped into the ocean with no beach in sight — so you start swimming and soon you learn it’s a damn fine beach when you get there.” Because traditional job descriptions and marketing messages dominated the employment conversation, everyone missed the conversation about what mattered most.

 

3. Recruit to meaning.

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.