Culture cannot flourish if individuals do not sustain it. Whether it’s a beautiful or horrific culture, it does not exist without one individual after another choosing to support it. In other words, if one person after another shifts away from a set of practices and beliefs that are the core of any culture, that culture eventually ceases to exist. This doesn’t mean there is no society or company, but that surely the culture has vanished.
Sure, systems, bureaucracies, policies, rules, regulations, laws, and other individuals impact your life. But whatever your situation and however you were raised, when it comes time to choose who you are and who you want to be, it all comes down to you. You may be the one who can solve a problem that keeps a client from jumping ship. You may be the one with a great idea like Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, or someone who wins a Nobel Prize. You may be the one whose mentoring changes lives for the better.
You also know that although you are responsible for choosing your values, what you do next is going to involve more than just you. In other words, you and multiple other individuals will make the difference between a culture that lasts and one that does not.
Now, I want you to start thinking pragmatically about how to build the flourishing culture you want in your organization. Specifically, I want to focus on some essential concepts and a step-by-step process for creating and maintaining that culture.
For me, the culture that I want to live and work in is achieved through what I value most: values like honesty, fairness, and promoting success for everyone involved in and related to my organization. These are among the values that guide me to my purpose, which is helping people realize their best selves. What follows are ten steps you can use to create a similar culture for your organization.
Step 1. Create Stakeholders: It Begins and Ends with You
If you are recruiting people into an organization that reflects a carefully articulated purpose and set of values, you’ve got to begin and end your day thinking about and acting on those values. It starts with the way you interact with each person at every level within your organization and outside it. Make sure your values and purpose are known to everyone and that they provide a core framework for daily operations.
Step 2. Create Stakeholders: It’s Not Enough to Bring People on Board
It’s not enough for you to bring people on board who share your values and your purpose. You need to keep these people on board. The real challenge, however, comes with holding on to the client or the talented employee. So what’s the formula? For starters, depending on the size of your organization, you should have regular, organization-wide meetings where people can share best practices, learn about what others’ jobs are like, and discover how areas of the organization overlap—or department wide meetings for large companies. Remember that you want people who will actively engage with each other without fear of leadership ego’s getting in the way. But part of that active engagement requires that people have at least a basic understanding of how the different areas of the organization fit together.
Step 3. Promote Accountability: Freedom, Transparency, and Responsibility
Eleanor Roosevelt said, “With great freedom comes great responsibility.” When you create the sort of culture that encourages people to share and challenge ideas, you create a culture in which people feel free to innovate and be creative. This also means that people are responsible for what they say and what they do. We all are agents of our actions. If you are going to create an environment and a culture of trust, transparency, and honesty, you must live it every day and not just preach it. You must say the things you believe are true, and you must do the things you say you will do.
Step 4. Create Dialogue: Listen
Related to the idea that a vibrant culture is one that encourages people to speak their mind and expects the experience to be beneficial for everyone involved is the idea that people should take dialogue seriously. Believe it or not, many people don’t know how to have a conversation that actually produces good ideas. Lots of times, we don’t listen to each other but rather simply wait for our chance to get our point across. The point of really listening is to understand and, more often than not, to take action on what you hear.
Step 5. Create Dialogue: Confirm or Correct
Ask the person you’re speaking with to confirm that your recapitulation of their meaning is accurate, or to correct you. After all, the ideas you’re trying to get right are theirs, not yours. Yes, the one communicating has the burden of making him- or herself clear, but you can help improve the person’s articulation. In addition, since you want people to take responsibility for what they say and do, you need to know you’ve got it right, and you need them to know that you care about that.
Step 6. Create Dialogue: Situate the Conversation
See if you can situate what someone is saying within the organization’s established framework of values, and try to find a connection or some alignment with the organization’s purpose. Doing so will help keep the focus on why everyone showed up for work!
Step 7. Create Dialogue: Consider Assumptions
Every story has to begin somewhere; we have to assume something to get things going. Similarly, when we engage in dialogue, we make certain assumptions that are often not explicit. They’re simply the givens we take to be true for the purpose of starting. Just as you do when you reformulate in your own words, check with the speaker to see if what you believe they have assumed is, in fact, what they assume!
As with verbal disputes, it’s often the case that our disagreements occur because of what is not said. In other words, we don’t state our assumptions, and we believe we know what others’ assumptions are, but we’re wrong!
Step 8. Disagreement Does Not Mean Stalemate: Give Others’ Ideas a Try
One of the political tactics both Republicans and Democrats use is to actively undermine their opponent. Even if the other guy or gal has a good idea, the opposing side reflexively and staunchly opposes it. Why? Because they don’t want to see the other side win. Ever.
If you and someone in your organization disagree over an idea or a process but a decision is made to implement it, make sure everyone gives it the same support they would show if they thought it was the best thing since sliced bread. It’s your job to get people on board and excited about the direction of a program, process, or policy, whether it was your idea or not. It’s easy to help things fail; it’s a lot harder to see them succeed. Since everyone in your organization is after the same thing, it is in everyone’s best interest to try to make implementing others’ ideas work.
Step 9. Change: Manage It
Change is a scary, scary thing for most people. They don’t know where they fit in with this change, or if they’ll be left out. It’s important, therefore, that whenever change is on the horizon, those who are responsible for deciding to implement it communicate their reasons clearly and thoroughly. People need to understand the context for change as well as how change will impact their workload, workflow, planning, and so forth. Continuous dialogue sustains organizational values and in so doing facilitates positive change. It’s important to work at maintaining the thread of those values throughout or across that change.
Step 10. Values: You’re in the Relationship Business
Never forget that human interactions are always meaningful at some level. You’ve probably had interactions that, for some reason, were really meaningful to others, though you thought them to be rather pedestrian. And the shoe has likely been on the other foot, too. You can never anticipate what is going to impact someone else’s life in a really meaningful way, but be aware that it’s always possible. If your interactions reflect your values, then you can always be confident that you have contributed to creating a meaningful culture wherever you go.
A media savvy speaker and compelling leadership trainer, Scott Deming is also a veteran businessman, Board member, marketer and community volunteer. He has been changing company cultures for thirty years with his unique approach to critical thinking and value-driven branding. He speaks, trains and consults with the largest and smallest companies in the world, helping them to create cultures that matter and cultures that last. At his core, however, Deming is compassionate and generous and his purpose in life is to help clients, friends and strangers make a positive change – either in their personal life, professional life, or organization. He is the founder and Chairman of Safe and Sound with Amaya, one of the original founders and past board member of Service Nation, past board member of several non-profits, graduate of the State University of New York at Buffalo, has four children and lives with his wife Deborah in Syracuse, NY.