Company Values? Whatever.

I attended a terrific conference recently hosted by Human Synergistics.

Their one-day #UltimateCulture Conference in Chicago brought together bright minds about organizational culture, including Edgar Schein, Larry Senn, Rob Cooke, Linda Sharkey, and Jason Carthen.

Presenters also included organizational leaders that lead their team cultures, including Jeanne Malnati, Dave Bonenberger, and Carol Montgomery.

As I listened and learned from great thinkers, practitioners, and organizational leaders, I was stuck by how consistent the themes were. Every presentation touched on these four key ideas:

  1. Culture Is About Human Behaviors, Human Experiences, & Human Relationships - Culture is more involved than employee engagement or high performance or customer service. It’s not about your company brand or your company’s killer product or service. The quality of your organization’s culture - whether yours is a small business, a department in a large company, a multi-state region, a global multi-national, or anything in between - resides entirely in the quality of relationships between people. If you want a safe, inspiring, productive culture, leaders must invest time and energy daily modeling, coaching, and aligning desired behaviors so that everyone is treated with trust, respect, and dignity in every interaction.
  2. Culture Is A Reflection Of The Organization’s Leaders For Better Or Worse - Leaders frame and mold their organization’s culture with their behavior, messaging, and decisions, every day. If leaders are aggressive and explosive, those behaviors are embraced as “normal” and are modeled daily by other leaders in the organization. If leaders focus exclusively on individual performance, team members learn to deliver performance even if it means “I win, you lose” - their success erodes their team members’ success. If leaders don’t engage in proactive leadership - promoting a clear strategy, aligning players to a clear organizational purpose, demanding behaviors that model desired values, etc. - it is extremely unlikely that leaders across the organization will model proactive leadership.<.li>
  3. Culture Is About The Values You Want Organization Members To Demonstrate Daily - Nearly every presenter at the conference described the importance of clear organizational values and how critical it is for leaders to define the behaviors they want everyone to model. Leaders must lead the way by not only defining desired values and behaviors but modeling them in daily interactions. If leaders announce the desired values but do not model them, the message is clear: “Do what I do, not what I say.” If leaders don’t continually emphasize the values and behaviors - “the way we do things around here” - employees won’t remember them. In Tiny HR’s 2013 Employee Engagement survey, 58 percent of respondents reported that they did not know their organization’s mission, vision, and values. Employees are simply stating their truth - leaders in their organizations don’t emphasize values, which erodes the quality of human relationships.
  4. Culture Is Hard To Measure - By the complex nature of culture, there is no single metric that can be measured to give leaders a culture score. There are, however, important areas that are measurable that do contribute to a safe, inspiring, productive culture. Employee engagement is a reliable indicator of trust and respect in daily interactions. Customer service ratings provide insight into how employees treat customers, which is a reflection of employee engagement, happiness, and skills. Productivity and profits are important outcomes that are easy to measure, and they do provide a glimpse into the organization’s cultural health. My organizational constitution approach helps leaders measure the degree to which desired values and behaviors are actually modeled. Human Synergistics’ Organizational Culture Inventory is an effective instrument that measures the styles that organization members embrace, be they constructive, aggressive, or defensive styles. I call all of these symptomatic measures - valuable but indirect measures of culture quality and health. They may be imperfect, but leaders must gather such data regularly - and refine their work environments to boost results, engagement, and service, together.

Culture matters. Values matter. Relationships matter. Leaders of today must create workplace cultures that deliver results in ways that honor their people and their customers, every moment.