Organizational culture is all about patterns of behaviors, rules (both written and unwritten), and the ways people either live up to or ignore the values they espouse. In other words, culture is how people operate in their work environment.
Culture can help a company soar to success (think Southwest Airlines) or chug along in fits and starts (Uber comes to mind).
Culture really matters.
Culture has been the focus of Chester Elton’s work for decades. He’s teamed up with Adrian Gostick on several bestselling books, the latest being All In: How the Best Managers Create a Culture of Belief and Drive Big Results.
In the first part of my conversation with Chester (see “How To Create A Work Culture Where People Choose To Be ‘All In’”), he talked about the characteristics of a culture that fosters top performance. In this second and final part, he gives examples of specific leadership behaviors that help create and maintain a high-performance culture.
Rodger Dean Duncan: You recommend that, in the interest of strengthening customer loyalty, leaders should allow key employees to disrupt and innovate. What are some examples of that?
Chester Elton: Bell Helicopter is an example of allowing employees to disrupt the status quo. In fact, their CEO Mitch Snyder believes that harmony is overrated.
What he has done is establish ground rules for disruption. It’s a way of keeping the conversations focused on innovating or solving a problem rather than getting your idea rammed through. The best ideas need to win.
Here are the rules:
- Everyone can ask questions or make suggestions (there is no dumb idea).
- Challenge the idea, not the person!
- We will listen carefully before responding (and ask for clarification if needed)
- Debates are an opportunity to find the best idea. (not to ram home your points)
- No one laughs at someone else’s expense.
- Employees have permission to disrupt. It comes right from the top.
Duncan: Many organizations use 360-degree feedback as part of their performance improvement efforts, and you endorse that approach. What are the keys to using 360s to greatest advantage?
Elton: The 360 is only as good as the follow-up. Leaders must be willing to be totally open and honest about the feedback. If after the 360 there is no conversation, it’s worthless.
Three keys for any leader are:
- Courage, to do the survey and share the results
- Humility, to accept that the results are accurate and changes need to be made
- Discipline, to actually implement that change
If that happens, the feedback on a 360 can elevate the leader and the team. There will be more trust and engagement going forward.
Duncan: “Transparency” gets a lot of play in the public dialogue nowadays. In terms of building workplace trust and engagement, where’s the sweet spot between openness with employees and the need to shield proprietary information from the prying eyes and ears of competitors?
Elton: Transparency is the key to trust in the workplace. I love the advice to leaders that goes like this, “You think they don’t know. They do!” There really aren’t too many secrets in business anymore, so why not get out in front of that and be open and candid about what you do, how you do it, and why?
Having said that, there are things that cannot be discussed openly. Mergers and acquisitions can be tricky subjects. In those cases, a simple message that those subjects are out of bounds helps, and perhaps even illegal. If you have been open about everything else along the way you will have the trust of your people and they will understand that some things are best kept to the few not the many.
Duncan: “What’s in it for me?” is a question asked by most people (at least in their own minds) about their workplace experience. What are some effective responses—explicitly verbalized or otherwise—that a leader can offer to that question?
Elton: Everyone I have ever talked to about work has one thing in common—they want to be happy in their work. They want to believe that what they do matters, that it makes a difference, and that when they make a difference it’s noticed and celebrated.
Research by Professor Sonya Lyubomirsky at the University of California shows that if you are happy and engaged at work you are 150% more likely to be happy in your personal life.
That’s the biggest pay-off I can think of, the best answer to, “What’s in it for me?”
All these things work to create a better workplace culture. They also work in creating a better personal life culture too. We shouldn’t leave all these best practices at work! We should take them home to the people and culture that mean the most to us.