June 2014

This is the second post in a series about how to develop a culture that is oriented towards performance. You can read the first post here. These principles are from a book called Managing to Outcomes. Download your free copy here.

An organization’s culture is simply the collective behaviors of people within that organization. As the leader, you can mandate and model these behaviors, but until they are embraced and implemented by the rest of the team, they are not part of the culture. So, since that is the case, what can we do to shape culture? Specifically, how can we orient our culture towards results?

  1. Recruit culture leaders – If you embrace this idea early, then you should strive to select employees based the values and behaviors you want exhibited in your culture. With a small organization like CARE for AIDS, I can select people who are lifelong learners, who understand the necessary tension between results and relationships, and who love to innovate and improve. When trying to shift an established culture, you need to recruit influencers from inside and outside to help foster that desired culture.
  2. Walk the talk – When it comes to culture, more is caught than taught. People are always watching the leader. If your actions do not align with the values you espouse, not only will you forfeit your influence, but you also won’t be able to change culture.
  3. Know what you stand for – If you don’t know what your values are and don’t make those clear to your team, people will guess. Sometimes they might guess right, but they will also guess wrong and that will only erode your culture and credibility.
  4. Answer the question “to what end?” – Without complete alignment and clarity on what you are trying to accomplish, it is hard to create a performance culture. At CARE for AIDS, we know that our purpose is to bring restoration to parents living with HIV physically, spiritually, economically, and socially, so they can live long and raise and educate their children. In order to do that, our U.S. team knows that we must raise a certain amount of money each year. That outcome is clear, measurable, and informs our culture.
  5. Ensure that everyone is moving towards the same destination – I am not opposed to healthy debate and lively discussion around ideas because my ideas are not always the best ones. As Andy Stanley says, “I am not the smartest person in the room; I am just the leader.” But, once you have decided on a direction, the team must embrace it and align themselves with it. If anyone is working against the goals of the team, then it is time to make a change.
  6. Ensure a balance between leaders and managers – Leaders love change. Managers love execution. If you have too many leaders, your culture can become too unpredictable and uncomfortable for those in it. On the other hand, if managers win the day, you risk becoming stagnant and complacent.
  7. Be clear and direct about what you expect – It is vital that you develop a process to clarify expectations and give direction up front, but you can’t neglect to give feedback on the back end. Also, people love to keep score. Creating ways to allow your team to self-evaluate will drive them to higher performance and better outcomes. Each of my team has a personal scorecard, so they can get real-time feedback instead of waiting to meet with me.
  8. Encourage self-improvement and personal growth – As I mentioned above, I am trying to create an organization of lifelong learners who are curious and humble. We want a team who asks questions, seeks counsel, reads, challenges one another, and thinks outside the box. We are on our third book as a team this year, and each person is also working through their individual development plans. We cannot develop a performance culture if we are not working hard individually to grow and develop.

In Managing to Outcomes, it says, “An organization’s culture has a huge impact on whether the organization can achieve what it hopes to for those it serves.”

Let’s not minimize the importance of building healthy, performance-based cultures because if we do, we will do a great disservice to the people that we serve.

Which of these 8 ideas do you need to work on today to strengthen the culture of your organization?