Creating a Purpose-Driven CultureArticle by Maynard Brusman, August 27, 2019
Building a Purpose-Driven Culture
Some companies prosper and draw the business world’s attention. They continuously grow, innovate and impress. In contrast, others struggle, never breaking through to reach their desired success. The latter must deal with downsizing, financial shortfalls, market-share losses and tarnished reputations.
The disparities are glaring. While leaders of prosperous companies garner industry admiration, those who head besieged organizations wonder where they went wrong. They search for explanations as to why their operations haven’t fulfilled their potential.
Research in social science and organizational behavior points to a critical quality, one that most directs every company’s future: culture. A strong culture consistently leads to robust performance, while a weak culture suffers ongoing failures.
Leaders who discount the importance of culture are apt to bear predictable consequences. They must define, assess and strengthen their organizational culture to thrive.
Culture is to an organization as personality is to a person. An organization’s culture determines how people act or work, what they believe or stand for and how they respond to pressures and challenges. Every company, without exception, has a culture.
Leaders unfamiliar with organizational behavior fail to realize that culture drives:
- How well (or how poorly) teams function
- Whether customers’ needs are being met
- Whether employees’ needs are fulfilled
- Company health and well-being
- Future outlook
Leadership expert John Coleman describes Six Components of a Great Corporate Culture (Harvard Business Review, May 6, 2013):
- A unifying vision or mission that fashions one’s purpose and plans
- A code of values that influences behavior and mindsets
- Practices that support and enhance people
- A recruiting process that matches people to the desired culture
- A celebrated heritage that tells the company’s story and what it stands for
- A beneficial working environment to optimize synergy
A strong culture can increase net income by more than 700% in an 11-year span, according to a 2012 study published in the Interdisciplinary Journal of Contemporary Research in Business.
Essential Skill Sets
Creating and sustaining a strong group culture is one of the most misunderstood and elusive aspects of leadership in today’s business climate. Some leaders are disinterested in their culture; it is superfluous. Others are too intimidated or unfamiliar, preventing them from taking prudent steps—and they may even make matters worse.
A strong company culture takes focused and deliberate leaders. Daniel Coyle identifies three foundational skill sets in The Culture Code (Bantam Books, 2018). The principles are simple, but following them requires wisdom and empathy:
- Define the organization’s purpose. Values and goals must be shared so everyone is on the same page. A strong culture begins with unity and a common purpose.
- Foster mutual trust. Establishing a culture where people trust each other and their leader takes time, but it empowers people to excel.
- Create a sense of safety. People instinctively yearn for safety, security, a sense of belonging and a personal identity. Employees who feel safe engage wholeheartedly, without fear of reprisal or condemnation. Leaders must provide a consistently safe environment.
Post Your Purpose
Without a fundamental purpose, organizations cannot steer efforts in any general direction. Employees need a reason to serve, shared goals, a common cause and focus.
Leaders are charged with creating a vision of the company’s future. They’re required to disseminate and promote their vision to unite people to achieve something together. People respond best to small, frequent, unobtrusive reminders of their purpose. Offer frequent encouragement and feedback.
Leaders can work with a qualified executive coach to hone the following vital skills:
- Clearly state individual and collective priorities. People want to know what’s expected of them.
- Overstate priorities to ensure everyone is in sync. There’s no need to be forceful or indignant. Aim for supportive and motivational.
- Provide high-feedback training, as Coyle calls it. This allows people to fail and find ways to improve. Culture blooms when people are empowered to learn and grow. Be sure to celebrate small victories.
Train to Trust
A strong culture depends on an environment of trust, where people can count on each other, take risks together and benefit from the resulting successes. Leaders enhance trust when they’re transparent, humble and express a need for help. Admit weaknesses, fallibility and set aside insecurities to reveal a real person who can be trusted.
Trust builds teamwork, which inspires cooperation and a vital interconnectedness. Great leaders approach difficult situations and challenging employees face to face, with care and honor. They’re firm, but fair.
Trusted leaders prioritize relationships and make sure employees feel appreciated. Leaders gain employees’ trust through active listening, thoughtfully addressing people’s situations and allowing them to speak freely.
People need detailed critiques without judgmental comments. As Coyle suggests, provide “targeted” or specific feedback. Be honest, sincere and helpful.
Leaders who provide purpose and a trusting environment are in the best position to offer a sense of safety. People feel safe when they can trust their relationships without concerns over politics, personalities and resentments. Employees who feel safe invest in the team dynamic and perform better.
Coyle provides the following helpful strategies:
- Receive people’s ideas and proposals with an open mind. Make them feel glad for contributing, not regretful. Let their voice be heard, and remind them that you need their ideas because their perspectives have value.
- Express thanks, which affirms the importance of relationships and provides motivation. If everyone’s efforts are important, a healthy codependency and unity develop.
- Accept bad news, and don’t shoot messengers. People who face threats for being truthful will learn to be silent. This kills a culture.
- Roll up your sleeves and get dirty. Leaders who place themselves above ordinary tasks erect barriers. When everyone is equally willing to contribute, teamwork expands and a sense of safety prevails.
- Don’t pad bad news with good. Beating around the bush or hedging your delivery signals disingenuousness, which spells danger. Say it like it is, but do so sincerely and considerately. Being truthful tells people you have their best interests at heart.
Dr. Maynard Brusman
Consulting Psychologist & Executive Coach
Trusted Leadership Advisor
Professional Certified Coach (PCC), International Coach Federation
Board Certified Coach (BCC)
I coach emotionally intelligent and mindful leaders to cultivate trust and full engagement in a purpose-driven culture who produce results.
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Tags: building a strong culture, coaching, culture, emotional intelligence, executive coaching, leadership, leadership development, mindful leadership, purpose-driven culture