Every leader, even those running high-performing organizations, should be looking for ways to improve results. Smart leaders know that the best way to improve performance consistently is to develop a culture that drives results. And the results derived from culture don’t just make everyone feel good; effective culture also drives financial results in a big way.
All organizations have a culture. Sometimes the leaders may not realize what the organization’s culture is, but a new employee will recognize it on her first day. An organization’s culture reflects what is important to the team, and what team members believe about how they should conduct themselves. Of course, this does not mean that every employee believes and behaves the same way, but culture does capture the team’s prevalent thinking and behavior.
There is plenty of evidence that effective cultures energize teams and improve financial results. So how can leaders develop an effective culture?
Embrace a Culture Mindset
Before a leader can direct the development of an effective culture, he needs to get his head in the right place. Leaders need to develop a mindset that embraces being a learner, views culture as a profitable investment and is intentional about culture.
The factor most likely to hold back a leader from optimal performance is the lack of a growth mindset. It’s important for leaders to be learners. If a leader has a growth mindset, it makes creating an effective culture — especially one that emphasizes continuous improvement — much easier. Leaders with a fixed mindset will struggle to create an effective learning culture. In her book Mindset, Carol S. Dweck does a great job of explaining this phenomenon.
Developing a mindset that views culture as an investment with an extraordinary return is a huge challenge for leaders. Unfortunately, many leaders view the time and resources it takes to develop a culture as expenses that negatively affect their organization’s results. This attitude is completely wrong. In fact, few things can improve an organization’s results more than culture.
Finally, the best cultures are intentional. They clearly identify the values of the organization and provide clear expectations for team members. Leaders who consistently get the best results don’t just let culture happen; they are intentional in developing a culture, and they champion that culture in their organizations.
After getting in the right mindset, the next step for a leader developing an organization’s culture is to create clarity around the organization’s purpose and values. Patrick Lencioni writes about the importance of clarity in his excellent book The Advantage.
One of the most powerful business books I have read is Simon Sinek’s Start With Why. In the book, Sinek explains that effective organizations have a clear purpose. He writes about how to develop one. Our company’s purpose — Making Life Better — permeates everything we do. Rarely a day goes by that our “why” does not come up in a meeting. I have seen firsthand how having a compelling “why” can fuel an organization.
After identifying an organization’s “why,” a leader must clearly identify the organization’s values. At our company, values are built on the three pillars of people, performance and philanthropy. Just a few of our values include being “highly assertive, highly cooperative,” “fast and right” and “market driving.” A couple of unique aspects of our culture include “humility” and “global outreach.”
After identifying an organization’s “why” and values, the leader must make them crystal clear. At our company, we have captured both our “why” and our values in what we call our identity pyramid. It is a graphic that clearly identifies what is important to us.
Anyone who wants to see our identity pyramid can email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. We will be happy to send you a copy.
Engage the Team
After embracing a culture mindset and creating clarity about what is important, the next step is to engage your team. Nobody does a better job of explaining the important elements of teamwork better than Lencioni in his book The Five Dysfunctions of a Team. Before you do anything with your team related to culture, read this book together. Over the years, I have seen this book help teams improve their effectiveness more than any other source of information.
As leaders, we will get the best results when we focus on building our team, not our business. Our business will do no better than our team, so leaders need to invest heavily in their people. Some leaders fear that if they invest in their people, the people will leave, but that’s crazy thinking. First, investing in people generates tremendous loyalty. Second, as I once heard motivational speaker Zig Ziglar say, “It is better to invest in your people and see them leave than not invest in your people and see them stay.”
It is the leader’s job to be the organization’s chief evangelist for culture. Once the leader has embraced the culture mindset, created clarity around what’s important and developed an effective team, he must continue preaching the culture. Even more important than preaching the culture, he must model it.
In short, the best leaders keep reinforcing the culture until they reach the point where they are tired of talking about it. But don’t stop, even when you are tired of talking about it; an effective culture is well worth the effort.
At Correct Craft, we not only believe in the power of culture; we want to share it. Last year, we hosted and underwrote the first Marine Industry Culture Summit in Orlando, Fla., with 43 leaders from across our industry. The results of that first summit were amazing, so we have announced a two-hour virtual follow-up to last year’s event.
We are again underwriting it, so there is no cost to attend. Anyone interested in learning more about culture is invited to sign up at marineculturesummit.com.
Bill Yeargin is CEO of Correct Craft.