Developing Leaders – Building Teams

Winning cultures: Five keys to long-term success

Does your organization suffer from: high turnover, lack of willing collaboration, lack of trust, low morale, excessive politics, disrespectful behavior towards others, illegal or unethical employee conduct?

If so, then culture is likely at the heart of the issue. A winning culture can not only help prevent these conditions, but can also be the catalyst that ignites an organization into truly becoming a “best place to work!”

If you are interested in understanding more about how to build a winning culture – read on!

Culture is a powerful word that at is core defines how a business and its people operate.  It is often referred to as the glue that binds an organization together. Fundamental to winning is creating an environment where ALL members of the team are aligned with clarity on where the organization is going and how it is going to get there. In the words of management guru Peter Drucker “culture eats strategy for breakfast.”

In today’s environment, organizations need to adapt to changes in technology, market demands, sales and logistic systems, and more. But what does not change are core values – those deep beliefs that help define an individual’s character and an organization’s culture. Values form the bedrock foundation for driving behaviors, business strategies, and decisions at all levels.

The U.S. Army became a value-based organization in 1998, adopting their seven values: loyalty, duty, respect, selfless service, honesty, integrity, and personal courage. Jack Welch (former CEO of GE) is generally recognized as one of the first CEOs of a Fortune 100 company to hold his executive leaders accountable for living the GE values.

Cynthia Cooper, the whistle blower at WorldCom who uncovered the largest accounting fraud in our country’s history (at the time), was a guest speaker at Georgia Regents University (now Augusta University) business ethics seminar. In her presentation, Cynthia passionately described the values in her heart that drove her decisions. When asked about the corporate values of WorldCom during this crisis, her response was “they had none.” This tragic downfall might have been prevented if a value-based culture, that included integrity, had been instituted and embraced by all from executive leadership down to the newest employee early in the company’s history.

I offer the following keys to establishing a winning culture in your organization.

  • Establish a corporate set of core values. If you don’t have them – develop them. It is that simple. If you do have them, reassess them to ensure they truly represent what is most important to your organization. Ensure the behaviors for each value are well-defined and understood by every member of the organization. The CEO/Business owner must be final approving authority for these values. The values chosen must highlight being a champion for doing the right thing and taking care of people.
  • Communicate the values. Creating and publishing values along with their behaviors while good is insufficient. They need to be communicated by the leadership over and over again until everyone gets it. They need to be reinforced by living them, verbally, in writing, in public and private meetings, through recognition programs and performance appraisals. The executive leadership team needs to be absolutely committed to the values, demonstrating this commitment through words and deeds.
  • Hire people who fit your values. Ensure core values are an integral part of the hiring process.  Chick-fil-A is a master at including values engagement in their hiring practice. We all recognize how costly is it to hire the wrong person. 
  • Enhance employee sense of ownership. Employees will work harder for their organization if they feel a genuine sense of ownership of the company. This ownership is derived from opportunities that enable employees to know their leaders; to being informed on the success of the company; to know who their customers are; and future plans for the company. They all have a need to understand how they are contributing to the success. Enhancing the feeling of ownership builds unity – a trait found in every great company.
  • Assess employee passion and engagement – and act on results. It is a fundamental truth that people do not care how much the boss knows until they know how much the boss cares. The attitude of employees drives how they approach work. Do employees believe that the leadership genuinely cares about them? Are people treated with respect? Do opportunities exist to learn and grow? Do people feel appreciated for their work? Employee engagement surveys are important ways to determine answers to the above questions. Actions taken to address the challenges build trust – one of the most important elements in establishing a winning culture.

Developing a winning culture does not happen overnight – it takes time and deliberate effort, especially by the leadership. I enjoy working with executives whose organizations need help in establishing powerful, valued-based cultures. Like the game of tug-of-war, the only way to win is when everyone pulls in the same direction.

Sam Walton, the original owner of Walmart, hired Don Soderquist in 1988 to be his COO and “keeper of the culture.” Don highlighted the reason Walmart continued to reach unprecedented levels of success long after the passing of Mr. Walton was the winning culture that was instituted and kept alive.

I wish you the best in your leadership journey!