Five Ways Your Leadership Shapes A Healthy Culture

AdVance Leadership » Five Ways Your Leadership Shapes A Healthy Culture

Welcome to Friday 411, issue #072. In 4 minutes, with 1 insight and 1 action, you will deploy five actions that shape a great culture.

1 Insight

Healthy culture starts with leaders who intentionally shape the values and behaviors of an organization.

As a leader, you’re responsible to create the culture that people work in. If you’re the CEO of a 30,000-employee company, you’re responsible to shape the culture that employees experience. If you’re the leader of a four-person team within that 30,000-employee company, you’re responsible for the “micro-culture” that bolsters the broader culture.

You may know the culture you want to create, but you’re still left with the challenge of how you create that culture. Five actions shape culture.


What Is Culture?

Before we look at those five actions, let’s do a quick refresher on what culture is, three types of culture, and three steps to developing a healthy culture.

Culture is the lived-out values of an organization. Every organization has values. Values are the ideals that shape organizational decisions, behaviors, and norms.

Companies could have three types of values:

  • Actual Values: These are the values that leaders have identified as reality. They strive to align behaviors throughout the company to these values.
  • Aspirational Values: These are values the company claims, but they aren’t expected or reflected in the behaviors of the people.
  • Accidental Values: These are the values that a company is unaware of. They have been tolerated over time and accidentally developed.  They influence the organization without official recognition.


How to Create Healthy Culture

Healthy culture starts with leaders and core values. Leaders need to take three steps to form a healthy culture:

1. Identify the actual values you have versus the aspirational values you desire.

You might aspire to the value of “People First.” You realize that staff meetings have only focused on finances and profitability. Though you aspire for the value of “People First,” “Profit First” is the actual value.

An intentional decision needs to be made to determine which of these values you want to claim. If it is “People First,” behaviors need to change. If it is “Profit First,” the named value needs to change.


2. Determine behaviors that people should demonstrate based on your actual values.

Let’s say that you choose to embrace “People First” as your actual value. Now, you need to identify behaviors that demonstrate that value.

Go back to the previous example of the staff meeting. During your staff meetings, you could shift your focus. Instead of concentrating only on profitability, you focus on the excellent work of one team member every week. This demonstrates a shift in behavior from Profit First to People First.


3. Execute on Five Actions.

Once you know various behaviors that you want people to instill, it’s your responsibility as a leader to help your team shape those behaviors. Take five actions to shape culture.



Five Actions that Shape Culture

1. Express It.

Tell people the behavior you want from them. Don’t assume that you can simply “lead by example.” People might see your behaviors but not realize that you want them to emulate those actions. Instead, tell them exactly which behaviors you want.

For example, imagine you run a retail store called Cindy’s Crafts, and one of your values is We Run to Help Customers. You can express the behavior you want like this:  “When a customer walks in the door, we want to greet them within 5 seconds. Greet them by saying, “Hello. Welcome to Cindy’s Crafts. What brings you in today?”


2. Expect It.

Once you’ve communicated the behavior you want, hold them to it. Observe their behavior and give feedback. You may even need to coach them. For example: “I noticed that when you saw that customer, you greeted them but didn’t ask why they came in today. I know it can be uncomfortable to ask this, but we can help them more if we know why they’re here. It’s part of our value that We Run to Help Customers.”


3. Reinforce It.

When you see good behavior, draw attention to it. Whatever you give attention to will get repeated. Reinforce the good behavior you want to see more of. For example: “Joe, you just did a great job greeting that customer and asking why they came in. Well done.” You can reinforce it both publicly and privately.


4. Reward It.

Rewards create an especially strong connection with the behaviors you want to reinforce. Rewards can include bonuses or gifts. But they don’t have to be expensive.

  • The Ohio State University rewards football players with stickers on their helmets.
  • School teachers reward children with gold stars.

We knew a leader who gave paper clips as a symbolic reward for employees who had used company resources wisely. People believed those paperclips were priceless, even though they were worth less than one penny.

Anything can be transformed into a reward if it symbolizes the desired behavior.


5. Don’t Tolerate Anything that Goes Against the Value.

Steve Gruenert and Todd Whitaker write, “The culture of any organization is shaped by the worst behavior the [highest] leader is willing to tolerate.” If you tolerate someone who consistently fails to greet customers the way you expect, you communicate a strong message to the rest of your team. You’re telling them that greeting customers isn’t that important. Therefore, you’re also telling them that the value of “We Run to Help Customers” also isn’t that important.

1 Action

Identify one behavior you want from your team that aligns with a core value. How can you Express, Expect, Reinforce, and Reward it?


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