Would you believe that
effectively guiding your organization's values, culture and
performance is as simple as asking yourself one
I recently had a breakthrough in
understanding how to transfer and translate core organizational
values to associates. However, it got more personal than I would
have ever believed. The purpose of this article is to share that
illumination with you in an effort to help you make positive
changes, not only in your organization, but throughout your
personal and professional life.
Starting out, I wish I had known
what I know now about which factors drive high performing, high
touch organizational cultures. For a long time I believed that
coaching people and modeling behavior was the key to improving both
organizational performance and its culture. My hope was that people
would naturally adapt to the organization's values on their
Today, I'm convinced that this is not the most
effective approach. An organization's values must be clearly
articulated, taught and measured. The reality is that some
personalities can cause exponential damage to associate
satisfaction and the overall organizational culture and
performance. When this happens, it is best that these individuals
quickly move on to other opportunities outside the company.
Although I still believe in "walking the walk," there's a more
systematic approach to building a dynamic organizational culture.
It lies in finding and hiring individuals that already live in
alignment with the values of the organization. It's taken me thirty
years to understand this. As I've come to recognize the importance
of articulating and teaching values within the organization, I've
struggled with how to do this effectively. It has certainly been a
journey, much more than a destination.
I have always had confidence in my sense of how to
build a culture that 1) attracts talent, 2) retains that talent and
3) leverages it in ways that reap competitive advantages in the
market. Yet, I've struggled with how to capture that culture in
words and processes that can be taught and measured.
That's when I invited Brandon Smith in to study and
articulate what factors were really driving my organization's
culture. Brandon is an Emory University faculty member and healthy
workplace consultant. What distinguishes Brandon's work from other
growth strategy consulting firms is his focus on the connection
between culture and performance. In other words, he pursues how
organizations create a great corporate culture that offers people a
great place to work AND serves as a competitive advantage.
After interviewing associates and managers throughout
my organization, Brandon interviewed me last. During our meeting,
he asked me two unexpected questions:
The first question Brandon asked me was, "What is
your life story?"
I must admit, at first, I was reluctant to answer
this question. This was partly due to my own background and the
personal nature of the question, and partly because I didn't see
what this had to do with my organization's culture and performance,
which was the point of the study.
Brandon assured me that there is a
direct link between a leader's personal background and the way they
run an organization.
Regarding my life story, I didn't grow up with the
traditional family values and support system many take for granted.
After going to 13 schools and ending up in the foster care system,
I never had a stable family environment. I learned the hard way
which values I most wanted in a family. I wanted a family that
encouraged and supported each other. One where every family member
was accepted, without judgment, no matter what happens. Loyalty,
honesty and authenticity were also critical. Because, growing up, I
didn't have any of this.
The second question Brandon asked was, "What are the
ideal values you want to instill in your family?"
The lightning bolt moment for me
occurred when Brandon showed me the results of the research he had
conducted with associates and managers throughout our organization.
What our associates articulated as the most important
organizational values were exactly aligned with the values I had
said I most wanted in my family.
In other words, I had created in our organization the
values system and sense of family I had desperately wanted as a
According to Brandon's research, 50
percent of any culture will be the reflection of the leader's
personal values. This means that more than customers,
employees or any other stakeholder, the personal story and values
of an organization's leader has the most significant influence on
the organizational culture.
What Brandon revealed to me was powerful. It was
something, in all my years of studying and cultivating my
organization's culture, I had never seen. This was a revelation for
me, and was one of the most powerful moments of my career.
The implications of this are
immense. What you and I believe and value,
as leaders, is the primary driver of the beliefs and behaviors of
our associates and organization.
Here is how Brandon showed me that the values I had
defined for our organization were directly related to the ideal
values I wanted to instill in my family:
If you look closely, you can see
that the Golden Rule is the thread that runs throughout our
organization's stated values and culture. It applies not only to
customers and associates, but to all constituents, including board
members, partners, vendors and the media.
These values are deeply personal to me, and I
don't want my associates or organization's performance to suffer as
a result of individuals who don't share them. If an associate
doesn't believe in and practice these values then they are not a
fit. I've found this sets expectations and aligns our culture and
I want to make a key point. By
transferring our personal and family values to our organization, I
am not implying that organizational cultures should be
"family-like." What I am talking about is creating an
organizational culture in which people are bound together
out of respect for one another, and feel
responsible for and invested in the organization's success. As
leaders, the care and expectations we work to instill in our own
families serve as a perfect guide.
The most important question you can
ask yourself when it comes to defining and influencing your
organization's values, and ultimately its culture, is as easy as
asking yourself one question: "What are the ideal values you want to
instill in your family?"