3 Steps to a Purposeful, Positive, and Productive Work Culture

March 19, 2018 12:15 pm

Leaders should place the same emphasis on valued behaviors as they do on performance results, then set about defining, aligning, and refining those behaviors.

If you had to describe your organization’s work culture in one word, what would it be?

If your team, department, or company is like most around the world, words like fun, inspiring, gratifying, respectful, purposeful, positive, and productive may not be top of mind.

According to Society for Human Resource Management research, respectful treatment of all employees at all organizational levels occurs in only 38 percent of workplaces globally

Many workers also experience a lack of support—and only 22 percent of employees who receive little supervisory support on the job would recommend their company as a good place to work, according to a 2017 survey from the American Psychological Association. 

In addition, many of us are witness to the fact that civility and respect are not the norm in our workplaces, homes, and communities. Christine Porath, author of Mastering Civility and a professor at Georgetown University, found that 98 percent of the employees she’s interviewed in the past 20 years have experienced incivility or rudeness in the workplace

Another major issue is disengagement. Research shows that 85 percent of employees worldwide are not engaged or are actively disengaged at work. That number hasn’t shifted significantly in more than two decades.  

Your organization’s climate may be much better than these studies indicate, but there almost certainly are opportunities for you to improve the health and quality of the work culture.

Video: Creating a Purposeful, Positive, and Productive Work Culture

Implementing a Fix

Why don’t leaders simply fix their unhealthy work cultures? Because they’ve never been asked to do that, and most don’t know how to do that. They’ve never experienced a successful culture change, much less led one.

The good news is that executives agree that culture matters. According to a 2017 Deloitte study, about 80 percent of executives rated the employee experience―including organizational culture, engagement, and the employee brand proposition―as very important or important. However, only 22 percent of those surveyed believe their companies are excellent at building a positive employee experience. 

The even better news is that leaders can fix their bent or broken work cultures. Once they embrace their responsibility to create a purposeful, positive, productive work culture, a proven three-step process can guide the way.

The steps are to define, align, and refine. It sounds simple—and it is. What’s hard is the mindset shift required of leaders to make values—how people treat each other at work—as important as results.

Define Your Desired Culture

If you want everyone, including leaders and team members, to treat each other with trust and respect in every interaction, you must change the rules. You must make your values expectations as observable, tangible, and measurable as your performance expectations are.

Define your desired culture through an organizational constitution—a formal statement of your organization’s servant purpose (your “reason for being” other than making money), values and valued behaviors, strategies, and goals.

Values and valued behaviors are a critical component. Yet values in most organizations are defined in vague, lofty terms. Leaders must define desired values in behavioral terms, which shifts those values from a “hoped-for outcome” in the workplace to an observable practice.

Let’s use respect as an example. A recent client defined respect, which was one of six values they formalized, as “appreciating the worth of others and treating everyone with courtesy and kindness.” That’s a great definition, but it’s not in an observable form—yet.

The client then defined the valued behaviors that are required to produce respect:

  • I seek and genuinely listen to others’ opinions.
  • I do not act or speak rudely or discount others.
  • I work to resolve problems and differences by directly communicating with the people involved.

These behaviors, along with those that are associated with their five other values, make clear what the minimum standards of citizenship are in this organization.

Align Valued Behaviors Throughout the Organization

Simply defining these valued behaviors and marketing them with, for example, posters throughout the workplace does nothing more than increase awareness. The only way to align everyone’s plans, decisions, and actions is for leaders throughout the organization to model the valued behaviors in every interaction.

This isn’t easy, but it is required. The scrutiny is severe. Everyone will be watching every plan, decision, and action to see whether leaders are “walking the talk.” If leaders model valued behaviors, team members will be more likely to model them as well.

Senior leaders must not only model those behaviors in every interaction; they must also coach others to model those behaviors, praise aligned behaviors, and redirect misaligned behaviors every day. 

These actions form the foundation of holding others accountable for the organization’s valued behaviors. (The same practices—coaching, praising, and redirecting—are an excellent foundation for holding others accountable for performance expectations.)

A vital part of alignment is creating a formal mechanism through which to receive values-based feedback from employees at regular intervals. This feedback allows the leadership team to assess the degree to which employees see leaders as modeling the team’s or company’s valued behaviors. Leaders can then be praised for aligned behaviors and coached on misaligned behaviors.

Only when leaders are held accountable for valued behaviors will those behaviors become a part of the organization’s culture.

Refine Your Organizational Constitution

The “refine” step provides the opportunity to tweak your organizational constitution—typically every two years or as needed. It is rare that your organization’s servant purpose needs revision. The same is true for your values and definitions; they rarely change. 

Strategies and goals need revision at least annually to allow for market opportunities and evolving customer needs and wants.

Valued behaviors will also likely evolve. As workers embrace your desired valued behaviors, those behaviors—e.g., keeping commitments, treating others with respect, validating others’ ideas as well as their accomplishments—become natural. Meanwhile, new values “gaps” will emerge.

For example, one client eliminated a couple of valued behaviors that were well-embedded (they knew those valued behaviors would continue without formal emphasis) and added two that focused on embracing employees from a variety of countries and from different generations.

Some clients don’t change their valued behaviors for years. Their behaviors are working well as areas of emphasis and don’t need revision. 

Bringing It All Together

These three steps work well in small businesses, huge multinationals, and every size and type of organization in between.

The effect is powerful. Within 18 months of implementing this process, organizations have experienced significant improvements in employee engagement, customer service rankings, and results and profits.

Don’t leave the quality of your work culture to chance. Make civility and respect a hallmark of every daily workplace interaction by changing the rules, living the rules, and holding people accountable for the rules.

S. Chris Edmonds is a speaker, executive consultant, and founder and CEO of The Purposeful Culture Group, as well as the author of The Culture Engine and Leading at A Higher Level, along with five other books. Learn more at http://DrivingResultsThroughCulture.com.


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