David Cottrell, President, CornerStone Leadership Institute

David CottrellDavid Cottrell is a premier authority on leadership and an internationally known speaker, author and business executive. He has written over 25 books including the perennial best selling, Monday Morning Leadership and LeaderShift … Making Leadership Everyone’s Business.

What does organizational culture mean to you?

Organizational culture is the atmosphere that is present in an organization. It is not a mission statement or a beautifully crafted purpose statement, although both of those are nice to have. Your culture is literally the work environment that has been established and rewarded in your organization. And, it is continually measured by two distinct groups.

First, your employees. Have you created a positive, energetic work environment where people can produce their best results? Do your policies and procedures reflect a consistent message that your employees understand – without a doubt – how business should be conducted? Do you reward behaviors that motivate and stimulate your team? Corporate contradictions will destroy a positive atmosphere. If your organization’s walk matches its talk, your culture will reward activities that drive your organization toward the results you want.

The second group who judge your culture are your clients. What do they see? People want to do business with positive people. Your clients will judge your organization culture by the person who they are talking to. They do not know what your internal culture is, they only know how they are treated. If your clients are greeted by knowledgeable, uncluttered, professional people, that is the culture your clients are judging.

What are the major determinants of organizational culture?

There are several internal measurements that reflect an unhealthy culture. Among the most common are: unwanted and unexpected turnover, slipping employee satisfaction ratings, customer retention, and internal productivity. As you dig deeper into any of those it will probably reflect a leadership gap of consistent communication, training, and positive reinforcement.

What is the role of employees in organizational culture?

The role of your employees is to elevate issues that are preventing them from keeping the main thing the main thing. Continuously prioritizing priorities can be overwhelming and frustrating. If they are constantly receiving conflicting directions it is difficult for them to separate the important from the trivial. It is like playing a never-ending game of Whack-a-Mole. As soon as they knock one “crisis” down, another pops up. Allowing employees to navigate through priorities in the right order is one of the keys to creating a positive culture.

What are the common problems associated with managing organizational culture?

By far, the most common problem I observe in organizations is connected communication. The amount of communication is typically not the problem. People are being communicated to from multiple sources every hour of every day. Connecting is the problem.

Many times the leader’s audio is out of synch with the video. That is frustrating for everyone. It creates chaos. If the leader is not identifying and focusing on the priorities that are consistent with the priorities of the team, everyone people will be working against each other.

A common denominator of successful leaders is that they are extremely organized. They are uncluttering experts. The ability to navigate through priorities in the right order is key to successful successful corporate culture.

What are the ways to innovate company culture? Any best practices to share.

I believe that there is a magic question that every leader yearns to hear. That question is from your employee: How can I help? If your team asking that question they are on board. They understand. They want the organization to achieve its goals.

But, before they will ask you the magic question, they have to have a series of questions answered:

1. What is really important. If you have too many priorities, they will not know where their focus should be.

2. How am I doing? Consistent feedback on their current performance.

3. Does anybody care? Is their any good reason to continue to do what they are doing if no one really cares?

4. How is our team doing? Everyone wants to be on a winning team.

5. What difference do we make? Everyone wants to be a part of something bigger and greater. They want to be part of a worthwhile purpose.

6. Are you worth following? Have you earned their respect so that they will take a risk for you?

Most people do not quit their jobs; they quit work relationships. For example, a relationship at work sours due to miscommunication, unclear expectations, or a misunderstanding. People become disappointed in the person they work for, so they go somewhere else to try another relationship.

The best way to create positive culture at work is for the leader to bring positive energy to work. People follow people. People follow the leader.

The good news is that you control the atmosphere can be improved. I am not sure exactly where I heard the sentence “Something can be done, and there is something I can do.” for the first time. Whoever shared it with me gave me a wonderful gift; it has been a source of comfort and strength throughout my life. Something can be done — whatever hole you are in is not permanent — something can be done right now. And, there is something you can do; you get to make the next move.

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