Author: Donna Brighton (Brighton Leadership Group)

Date: August 30, 2021

Leaders are responsible for creating, maintaining (and sometimes destroying) culture. But what is culture, and where does it come from?

Culture is a result of human being’s craving for predictability and certainty. It develops when there is a consistent group of people (such as a team, department, or organization) and is shaped by shared history and the collective learning that comes from many experiences together over time. This creates patterns that define the acceptable ways to think and behave in response to various situations.

All organizations have cultures – the only question is whether they are unintentional, hypocritical, or intentional.

  • Unintentional culture: When no thought or focus is put into creating culture, an unintentional culture emerges. It isn’t good or bad, it’s just not directed to encourage high performance or accomplish organizational goals.
  • Hypocritical culture: This is easy to observe in an organization whose collective behavior contradicts the agreed-upon values or norms. (Did you know that “integrity” was the stated #1 value of Enron? That is a clear example of hypocrisy!)
  • Intentional team culture: This occurs when there is a focused effort to define an ideal culture, then align and manage the culture (which is the team’s values, beliefs and behavioral norms), in support of the organizational goals.

As Satya Nadella stated in his book Hit Refresh, the “C” in CEO stands for culture. One of the most important responsibilities of the CEO is to cultivate culture. It’s the multiplication factor in performance. Two organizations with the same ability will have completely different outcomes based on the culture. Systems and processes are important but cannot make up for ineffective culture. Culture is not just the CEO’s responsibility; all leaders are responsible for the culture they are creating.

Meaning drives motivation. Meaning is one of the intrinsic factors that increase performance. Meaning comes from knowing how you are contributing to something greater than yourself. A meaningful culture requires that a leader connect the HOW (the expected cultural values which capture the beliefs of how to behave) with the WHAT (the work people do each day) and the WHY (a greater purpose.)

4 Steps to a Meaningful Culture:

       1. Know the WHY. Define a clear, compelling purpose.

       2.   Know the HOW. Define your ideal cultural norms, the beliefs and the behaviors

  • Gather data. Measure your culture – both ideal and what currently exists.
  • Gather stories to understand the underlying beliefs that drive the behaviors and shape culture.
  • Review the data to understand where there is alignment and where there are gaps. Get clear on the cultural norms required to achieve your purpose and your goals

    3. Know the WHAT. Shockingly, many leaders have limited awareness of the daily work of their teams. It’s         critical to know your team members’ priorities, their work, and their challenges. Leaders who can speak to         the activity and focus of their teams are better equipped to make the connection.

    4. Make the connection between why, what and how. People need to understand how the work they do     every day is expected to be done in the organization (culture) and how it connects to something greater     than themselves (purpose). Tell stories over and over that reinforce this connection.

Don’t shirk your leadership responsibility and leave culture to chance. Your opportunity is to create greater levels of achievement and performance through a meaningful culture.

To read more of Donna's blog posts click here. 

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