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The Company You Keep

“Your company doesn’t have a culture. It IS a culture.” – Simon Sinek

When you can wrap your arms around that fact, you’re able to step forward into a clearer understanding of what you do and why it matters. It’s partly outcome-based largely on the decisions of its leaders. It’s never stagnant; constantly evolving and ever-changing.

Setbacks in business aren’t all that different. Whether it’s a significant financial downturn, the loss of a key product or an unforeseen controversy, organizations are also forced to reflect and evaluate. Employees are often left wondering if it’s possible for the company to come back and, if it can, what their role will be and what will be different. How the organization responds will inevitably dictate its future viability.

The most important people to the culture are those who leave. This is hard to say because it sounds mean: the people you fire are more important to your culture than the people you hire. You can evaluate talent all day long and you’ll still be wrong a majority of the time. UNLESS you’re able to protect the environment by recognizing where you have erred and course correct. You reveal what the current culture is – looks like or behaves – as a by-product of who stays and who goes, and to effectively fine-tune your way into what your culture is by learning who fits and who doesn’t — and by learning what precisely it is they are fitting into. To do this requires courage and confrontation

“The most important people to the culture are those who leave.”

The other part of culture is the context in which people operate, which is influenced by a myriad things, like goals, feedback, promotions, compensation, physical space, how people organize outside of work, social norms, how people talk, whether debate is promoted or squelched, how conflict happens, how hard people work, what’s celebrated and what’s left unsaid. It includes some subtle and important intangibles like celebrations and the informal network of how people talk with one another.

I have found there are two simple, practical and powerful ways for Elegant Leaders to jump start a change initiative in the proper order.

1. Lead with your heart and appeal to their heart by strengthening relationships between team members.

2. Appeal to the head through building alignment around how we’re expected to get work done.

Build Trust: Leading from the heart begins by demonstrating confidence in your team’s talent. When you make it clear that everyone – regardless of level, function or location – has substantial, often untapped potential to contribute, you create the psychological safety necessary to achieve peak performance.

Build Unity: Creating social cohesion, a togetherness, a bond or a brotherhood, leaders with strong emotional intelligence build authentic, strong, dynamic relationships with team members. They invest time to get to know people beyond their work personas and apply knowledge about teammates’ personalities, values and experiences to inspire, motivate and develop them.

What about head-first leaders? How do they support team success? These leaders are on the slippery slope of ego and results. There are some very good head-first leaders. However, my opinion is their heart is in the proper place first, thus making them a heart-centered leader. I stopped explaining myself when I realized people only understand from their level of perception – a powerful statement given we are ALL at different stages in our professional and personal lives. Be open to listen to one another before offering your judgment.

Build Community: Developing a sense of belonging, a rapport, a deep connection demonstrates values in action that ‘we are a team.’ Community emphasizes a team’s collective identity, ensuring the group’s success supersedes that of any individual’s. This positions team membership as a source of real pride. We contribute, in our own unique ways, to the success of the team through a sense of community.

Align People: They are more task-focused and begin by creating clarity about what the team aspires to achieve, why, how, what and when. They must frequently return to these touch points to reinforce the ‘why’, the purpose and consistently check for shared understanding. When all team members agree on objectives, roles and implementation plans they act more autonomously, efficiently and with greater engagement. All good things in a collaborative environment. Alignment comes from inspiring each other’s ‘why’. Doesn’t that engage their heart?

Focus on Achievement: People who lead from the head help teams set ambitious, measurable targets and then to do whatever it takes to achieve them. They ensure all team members have a hand in establishing a clear picture of success. The delicate touch here is if the leader pushes too hard instead of pulling people along, the results come at the cost of coercion and relationships suffer. Their vision ensures accountability for making the result a reality having that outcome rest on the shoulders of the team. Competition is a great thing when it’s led by a strong leader with a heart for their people. Howevere, when the focus is ‘win at all costs’ regardless of who gets in the way, then head-led leading crumbles via the bodies strewn in its wake.

Encourage Adaptability: Leaders here support their teams with an execution mindset empower them to test, learn and pivot as they pursue goals. They celebrate ‘failure’ and fail quickly so we may learn from what went wrong making it clear changing direction based on new information is a sign of strength, not weakness. It’s okay to fail, you’re not a failure. Adaptable, flexible are successful traits to engage in environments of control. This is the ‘hold on loosely’ climate of control vs. the deathgrip unhealthy controlling attitude leaders with large egos exhibit.

Every CEO is in fact a Chief Cultural Officer. The terrifying aspect is the CEO’s actual behavior, not their speeches or the list of values they have framed around ‘the campus’ that defines what the culture is. Without the powers of hiring, firing, promoting, and punishing, any employee at the company is along for the ride in a culture driven by someone more powerful than they are.

The Strategy& study, “Culture’s Role in Enabling Organizational Change” by DeAnne Aguirre, Rutger von Post, and Micah Alpern analyze the results of over 2,000 executives, managers, and employees from a broad range of companies across the world to shed light on current perceptions of organizational culture. The results were a idespread belief organizational culture is a key element of company success. Here are some stats for you:

86% of C-level executives and 84% of all managers and employees say culture is critical to their organizations’ success

60% see it as a bigger success factor than either their strategy or their operating model.

96% said some change to their culture is needed

51% think their culture requires a major overhaul

75% believe their company needs significant culture restoration – this number is in alignment with Gallup’s number of over 70% of people are fully disengaged at work.

The goal of the study wasn’t to measure the need for cultural change. It didn’t ask what types of cultural change were needed or desired. Get your organization’s standard of culture right and you will have a sustainable strategic advantage difficult for anyone to copy and very hard to compete against in the marketplace.

Success goes to leaders and organizations that build and nurture a ‘culture of high relationship capital’ across your ecosystem – customers, employees, partners, and suppliers – everyone you touch is involved! Today, business cultures of high trust are relatively unique. In the near future, it will not only be the ‘ticket to play,’ it will most certainly be the ‘ticket to stay’ and effectively compete. If not, the hyper-connected client, customer, Rockstar employee, and partner will bypass you and your organization in the blink of an eye.

If you’re a decision maker at a company, or leading a company yourself, and you’re dissatisfied because you’re not as competitive as some other company, or you’re envious they are achieving something you are not. Stop! Hire people of great character, competence, good intent, and motives. It’s about nurturing an organizational culture of purpose, performance, and strong relationships through people not over them. Can you do this by yourself?

You sure can, but I’m not convinced it’s where you should invest your time. Read more here on what we do, why it matters and how we implement sustainable change delivering results you must have to be successful with stronger relationships.

Influencing Change

When Will You Consider Change?

If you knew failure wasn’t an option, what would you do differently? Click here for my private calendar to schedule a no obligation, no strings conversation. If you’re not sure you’re ready, then answer a few questions on your own of what your capacity for improved performance looks like here. You can read an excerpt here on Elegant Leadership to see if it’s something that may help you and your team.

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