I have been working with organizations for decades and have observed that culture always starts at the top. There can be numerous factors that go into building a great culture. The one with the greatest impact is sitting in the corner office.
Here is a real story about culture
I was sitting in the office of a CEO. He was telling me about the problems in his organization. The manufacturing people could not get along with the sales group. The maintenance people were always at war with the designers. The engineers thought the quality people were nuts. The entire organization was in constant conflict due to these problems. He wanted to know if I could come in and “fix” the culture to be one of higher trust.
I looked at him and said, “have you considered your part in creating these problems?” He said, “Oh no, there is nothing wrong with the culture of the senior team. It is the groups below that need to be fixed.” After a few seconds of consideration, I simply stated, “then I don’t think I can help you.” I got up and left his office and the building.
Poor culture is a common disease
I noticed that many leaders have a tendency to think this way. They see all the problems below them in the organization. They do not realize that it is their policies and actions that are creating most of the friction. Here is a link to a brief video I made. The title, The Role of Leaders in Creating Trust illustrates my point.
The culture cure is simple but elusive
Work to convince the senior leader that he or she is at least part of the problem. If the culture is not what the senior person wants, the cure is staring you in the face. You just need to convince him or her to try a different style and see if things improve.
To soften the blow, do not have the mindset that you must totally fix the senior person to be successful. Instead, focus on helping the entire organization function better.
Lower the fear
The usual cause of organizational problems has a root in lack of psychological safety. Educate the leader on what the words mean and how by changing his or her behavior the culture can be changed rather quickly.
My work will never end. There are so many leaders who cannot see the link between their behaviors and their problems. By teaching the leader how to change his or her behaviors, you can have a direct impact on the culture.
Bob Whipple, MBA, CPTD, is a consultant, trainer, speaker, and author in the areas of leadership and trust. He is the author of: The Trust Factor: Advanced Leadership for Professionals, Understanding E-Body Language: Building Trust Online, and Leading with Trust is Like Sailing Downwind. Bob has many years as a senior executive with a Fortune 500 Company and with non-profit organizations.
Over the past forty years, I have studied trust cultures. I have witnessed literally hundreds of organizations and seen the best of the best and the other extreme. Throughout this conquest, I have kept notes on the differences and similarities in order to draw some conclusions.
High trust cultures
The atmosphere in high-trust organizations is refreshing and light. People enjoy coming to work because they have fun and enjoy their coworkers. They are also more than twice as productive as their counterparts in lower trust areas. They honestly feel like winners.
People rarely leave high-trust organizations, because they are aware of how precious their culture really is. High-trust groups still have significant problems to solve, but they do so efficiently and with low acrimony.
Low trust cultures
In groups with low trust, the atmosphere is oppressive. People describe their work as a hopeless string of sapping activities and abuse. These things are foisted upon them by the clueless morons who run the place. Many people are either looking for better employment or simply retired in place. They feel like losers.
Most top leaders understand all of the above. The conundrum is, they sincerely want to build an environment of higher trust. Unfortunately, they consistently do things that take them in the wrong direction. I made a brief video about my observations of many leaders. The video is entitled “The Role of Leaders.”
Many leaders end up hiring expensive consultants to help create a better environment within their organization. This practice rarely works because the leader does not realize the problem cannot be fixed by an outsider. To fix the problem of low trust, the leader needs to fess up. “The atmosphere around here stinks, and it must be my fault because I am the one in charge. How can I change my own behavior in order to turn the tide toward an environment of higher trust”?
With that attitude, there is a real possibility an outside coach or consultant can help the organization. Unfortunately, most leaders have a blind spot on their own contribution to low trust, so in those groups. there is little hope of a lasting change.
Leader behaviors that build or destroy trust
It is easy to brainstorm a list of a hundred things leaders can do to build trust. The opposite of these things will destroy trust. For example, if a leader always walks the talk, then trust will grow. If the leader does not walk the talk, then trust will be destroyed. In my classes, I share a couple dozen of the big things that build or destroy trust. If you are interested, here is an article on “Trust Behaviors” that names several of these factors.
There is one factor that enables all the other factors to work well. I believe it is the key leadership behavior to build trust.
Create psychological safety
If you have built psychological safety, then people in your organization know they can share their true feelings without fear of being put down. Once you build that level of confidence with all your people, maintain it. Then all of the other trust-building behaviors work like magic.
As a leader, you build psychological safety by reinforcing people when they are candid. Basically, you make people feel glad they brought up a scary issue. Most leaders cannot reinforce candor consistently, and that is why so many organizations fail to have high trust.
A culture of high trust is precious for any organization. If you have it, you will succeed and if you don’t you will surely fail. It is vital to create and maintain high trust in your organization. Leaders create trust by reinforcing candor.
Bob Whipple, MBA, CPTD, is a consultant, trainer, speaker, and author in the areas of leadership and trust. He is the author of The Trust Factor: Advanced Leadership for Professionals, Understanding E-Body Language: Building Trust Online, and Leading with Trust is Like Sailing Downwind. Bob has many years as a senior executive with a Fortune 500 Company and with non-profit organizations
In any organization, leaders create the culture. Apathetic people exist in every organization. One can fault workers who trap themselves in a state of despair. Managers typically describe these people as having “bad attitudes.” The culture created by leaders is often the root cause of the problem.
Place these individuals in a culture of trust, respect, and challenge. You will see many of them quickly rise up to become happy and productive workers. It is essential that each individual in the workforce find real meaning in the organizational culture. Culture is determined by numerous actions and concepts, but it starts with the values and vision of the leader.
The culture of an organization is not easy to define. Most of the leadership textbooks I have read describe the culture in terms of physical attributes that characterize an organization. For example, here is a typical list of the things purported to make up a company culture.
Language and symbols
Rituals, ceremonies, gossip, and jokes
Stories, legends, and heroes
Values and norms
The above list is a montage of the lists in many textbooks. When you think about it, these items do go a long way toward defining the culture of an organization. Unfortunately, I believe these items fall short because they fail to include the emotions of the people. After all, organizations are made up of people, at all levels, interacting in a social structure for a purpose. Let us extend the list of things that make up the culture of an organization.
Is there a high level of trust within the organization?
To what extent do people have the opportunity to grow in this organization?
Do people feel safe and secure, or are they basically fearful?
Is the company financially stable?
How do people treat each other on their own level and on higher or lower levels?
Is there mutual respect between management and workers?
Is the culture inclusive or exclusive?
Do people generally feel like winners or losers at work?
Is the culture one of reinforcement or punishment?
Are managers viewed as enablers or barriers?
Are people trying to get into the organization or trying to get out?
What is the level of satisfaction for people in this organization?
Can people “speak their truth” without fear of reprisal?
Do people follow the rules or find ways to avoid following them?
Do people receive a living wage?
How can leaders build the right culture where people have a sense of purpose and meaning in their work? Here are eight approaches that are used by successful leaders.
Have high ethical and moral standards. Operate from a set of values, and make sure people know why those values are important.
Operate with high Emotional Intelligence. The ability to work well with people is critical.
Build trust. Trust is the glue that holds people together in a framework of positive purpose. Without trust, we are just playing games with each other, hoping to get through the day unscathed.
Create a positive vision of the future. Vision is critical because without it people see no sense of direction for their work. Create a common goal that is exciting.
Lead change well. Change processes are in play in every organization daily, yet most leaders struggle with change processes.
Build High Performing Teams. Enhance a sense of purpose where there is a kind of peer cohesion brought on by good teamwork.
Build morale the right way. Motivation is derived by treating people with respect and giving them a clear vision and autonomy. Avoid trying to motivate people by adding hygiene factors, like picnics, bonuses, or hat days.
Reinforce good behaviors.
Most of the above concepts sound like common sense; unfortunately, they are not common practice in many groups. This void contributes to much of the apathy in organizations. To have people rise to their level of potential, you need a strong culture. To accomplish that, focus on the above concepts, and see a remarkable transformation in your organization. Become a student of these skills, and teach them to other leaders. Learn how to personify the concepts listed above to rise to the level of great leadership.
Bob Whipple, MBA, CPTD, is a consultant, trainer, speaker, and author in the areas of leadership and trust. He is the author of: The Trust Factor: Advanced Leadership for Professionals, Understanding E-Body Language: Building Trust Online, and Leading with Trust is Like Sailing Downwind. Bob has many years as a senior executive with a Fortune 500 Company and with non-profit organizations
When organizations merge or there is an acquisition, the ability to create one new culture is paramount. This aspect is most often the stumbling block that prevents the merged unit from being successful.
Managers often assume this will happen naturally over time, They give this aspect little attention when planning the merger. WRONG!
Achieving a stable culture where people are supportive is the most significant challenge for most change efforts. Do not assume things will work out; instead, take a highlyproactive approach to defining a new culture.
Merger of equals?
In most cases, one group will feel they have been “taken over” by the other. Curiously, in many instances, both groups feel like they have been taken over. Employees in each former group need to modify their procedures to accomplish the union. Usually, one of the parties is assumed to be in the driver’s seat. It is the other party that needs to endure the bulk of changing systems.
Why the Resistance?
Lack of trust and genuine animosity lead to resistance when it comes to blending the two groups into one. It is common to have the conflict occur as passive-resistive behavior. People will have the appearance of agreeing, but subversively undermine the other group however possible. This kind of “we-they” thinking can go on for years if allowed.
What actions can management take to mitigate the schism and promote unity? Here are a dozen ideas that can help:
Start early – Do not let the inevitable seeds of doubt and suspicion grow in the dark. Work quickly after announcing the merger to have teambuilding activities. Openly promote good team spirit and put some money into developing a mutually supportive culture. Good teamwork is not rocket science, but it does not occur naturally. There must be investments to accomplish unity.
2. Have zero tolerance for silo thinking – This philosophy is hard to accomplish because human beings polarize if given the opportunity. Set the expectation that people will at least try to get along at all times. Monitor the wording in notes and conversations carefully and call people out when they put down the other group. This monitoring needs to include body language. Often rolling eyes or other expressions give away underlying mistrust.
3. Blend the populations as much as possible – Transplant key individuals from Group A with counterparts from Group B. If done with care, it will not take long for the individual cultures to be homogeneous. Sometimes the transplanting process is unpopular, but it is an important part of the integration.
4. Use the Strategic Process – It is important to have a common set of goals and a common vision. If the former groups have goals that are not perfectly aligned, then behaviors are going to support parochial thinking. When conflicts arise, check to see if the goals are really common or if there is just lip service on this point.
5. Reward good teamwork – Seek out examples of selfless behavior from one group toward the other and promote these as bellwether activities. Verbal and written reinforcement from the top will help a lot. You might consider some kind of award for outstanding integration behavior.
6. Model integrated behavior at the top – Often we see animosity and lack of trust at the highest levels. It is only natural for the lower echelon to be bickering. People have the ability to pick up on tiny clues in wording and body language. The leaders need to walk the talk on mutual respect.
7. Co-locate groups where possible – Remote geography always tends to build polarization in any organization. If merged groups can be at least partially located under one roof, it will help to reduce suspicion. If cohabitation is cost prohibitive, it is helpful to have joint meetings. This is especially important at the start of the integration process.
8. Benchmark other organizations – Select one or two companies that have successfully blended cultures. Send a fact-finding team made up of representatives from each group to identify best practices. This team can be the nucleus of cooperation attitudes that can allow unity to spread through the entire population.
9. Make celebrations include both groups – Having both groups celebrate progress together is helpful. Make sure the celebrations are for progress toward the ultimate culture instead of sub-unit performance.
10. Align measures with joint behavior – Make sure the performance measures are not contributing to silo thinking. If the goals are aligned for joint performance, have the measures reinforce behaviors toward those goals. Often, well-intentioned measures actually drive activity that is directly opposite to the intended result. One way to test for this potential is to ask a question. “What if someone pushes this measure to the extreme? Will that action still produce the result we want?”
11. Weed out people who cannot adjust – A certain percentage of the population in either group is going to find it difficult to stop grieving. Identify these individuals and help them find roles in some other organization. It will help both the merger process and the individual. On the flip side, identify the champions of integration early and reward them with more exposure or span of control.
12. Create incentives for the desired behavior – Encourage people to act and think in an integrated way. Have the incentive plans payout only if both units perform seamlessly.
If something awful happens with the business during the integration, don’t panic. Often by working through a crisis or an emergency, a strong joint identity emerges. Use problems as a way to draw people together rather than a reason to focus blame.
The road to a fully-functioning integrated culture can be long and frustrating. By following the ideas given above, an organization can integrate cultures quickly. Hasten the day when people feel a sense of belonging to a single new order.
Bob Whipple, MBA, CPLP, is a consultant, trainer, speaker, and author in the areas of leadership and trust. He is the author of: The Trust Factor: Advanced Leadership for Professionals, Understanding E-Body Language: Building Trust Online, and Leading with Trust is Like Sailing Downwind. Bob has many years as a senior executive with a Fortune 500 Company and with non-profit organizations. .
Culture is critical to the performance of any organization. When I advise CEOs how to improve the performance of their organization, I first analyze the situation, then report back to the top officer with some advice. Quite often my advice will sound something like this:
“There is low trust in this organization, and that is causing a lot of conflict. You and your top leaders are running yourselves into the ground trying to solve problems all day. It is like you are playing Whack-a-mole, and the problems keep coming faster each day, so you cannot catch up.
Many of these problems are of your own making. What you need to do is carve out some time to work with your entire organization on improving your culture, because that is the only way to get out of the Whack-a-mole Game.”
They often look at me in utter astonishment. They know what I am saying but just cannot imagine that it is possible to actually take time away from solving problems to invest in the culture.
Some of these leaders blow up at me and throw me out of their office with words like, “You must be insane. You have no idea the issues we are resolving every day. If we took time off, we would be buried almost instantly. Get out of here and stop bothering me.” I head for the door, and on my way out I say, “Well, then, I hope you enjoy your Whack-a-mole game.”
What they fail to see is that four hours of time invested in the culture will save them more than 8 hours of solving problems and conflicts later. The reason is three-fold:
Taking time to improve the culture instantly reduces the most time-consuming problem any leader has. That is the inability for people in the organization to get along with each other. Most managers spend from 30-50% of their time dealing with interpersonal issues. If the culture were improved, much of that time would be reclaimed.
When people work on the culture, they are also helping to chart the way forward for the organization. This means that the leader has many willing and eager hands to resolve technical issues. He or she does not have to solve every problem. Many issues can be delegated to other people in the organization who would be delighted, even thrilled, to help out. People in the organization will have higher buy-in, so they put more effort into their tasks. Presto-another 15-20% of time is reclaimed.
The ability to get away from the constant mind-numbing pressure of the daily grind and think about how we can work better together is therapeutic. Working on the culture affords the opportunity to relax, recharge the batteries, and build a stronger team. That pays off in increased energy to resolve the few problems that remain.
Consider the return on investment of taking time regularly to improve your culture. You will find the quality of your life to be significantly enhanced, and your organization will function more smoothly. The other benefit is that when you take a sick culture and turn it into one of high trust, productivity goes up by a factor of two or more. Leadership becomes a blast rather than a grind.
If you are an exhausted leader who is not happy with performance, try my prescription. You will feel a whole lot better, and your organization will prosper.
The preceding information was adapted from the book Leading with Trust is like Sailing Downwind, by Robert Whipple. It is available on www.leadergrow.com.
Robert Whipple is also the author of The TRUST Factor: Advanced Leadership for Professionals and, Understanding E-Body Language: Building Trust Online. Bob consults and speaks on these and other leadership topics. He is CEO of Leadergrow Inc. a company dedicated to growing leaders.
There are hundreds of assessments for leaders. The content and quality of these assessments vary greatly. You can spend a lot of time and money taking surveys to tell you the quality of your leadership.
There are a few leading indicators that can be used to give a pretty good picture of the overall quality of your leadership. These are not good for diagnosing problems or specifying corrective action, but they can tell you where you stand quickly. Here is one of my favorite measures.
Lou Holtz, the famous football coach had a remarkably simple philosophy of doing business. It consisted of three simple little rules: 1) Do Right, 2) Do the best you can, and 3) Treat other people like you would like to be treated.
The basic Do Right Rule means acting with integrity. If doing what is right is such a basic and easy thing, why am I even bothering to write about it?
It’s simple; most leaders have a hard time figuring out what the right thing is. That is a stunning indictment to make, but I really believe it is true on occasion. Reason: in the melee of everyday challenges, it is so easy to make a judgment that seems right under the circumstances, but when extrapolated to its logical conclusion it is really not ethical, or moral, or it is just plain dumb.
For a leader, it is easy to rationalize the particular situation and convince yourself that something marginal is really OK to do “all things considered.” There must be a safeguard for this common problem. There is, and I will reveal it later in this article.
The Problem Escalation
I believe that most of the huge organizational scandals of the past started out as subtle value judgments by leaders in their organizations. There was a decision point where they could have taken path A or path B. While path B was “squeaky clean” in terms of the ethics involved, path A was also perfectly logical and acceptable based on the rules in place at the time and was also somewhat more profitable than Path B.
The problem is that if path A was acceptable today, then A+ would be fine the next day, and A++ the next. Other people would get involved, and the practice would get more embedded into the culture.
Eventually, after a few years, it was clear that rules were being bent all over the place in order for the organization to look good to investors. There was no convenient way to roll back the ethical clock, nor was there any impetus. They seemed to be “getting away with it.”
Ultimately the practice, whether it was Enron’s disappearing assets or Bernie Madoff’s Ponzi Scheme, became too big to hide and things blew up.
My contention is that these people were not intending to do bad things originally, they just got caught up in what Alan Greenspan called irrational exuberance and had no way to quit the abuse. Of course, by that time they really were evil people doing evil things, but I believe it did not start out with those intentions.
At the start I believe these leaders were truly blind to the origin of corruption that brought down their empires and bankrupt thousands of individuals in the process.
How can leaders protect themselves from getting caught up in a web of deception if they were originally blind to the problem? It’s simple; they needed to create a culture of transparency and trust whereby being whistle blower was considered good because it protected the organization from going down the wrong path.
Imagine if the culture in an organization was such that when someone (anyone) in the company was concerned about the ethics of current practice and he or she brought that concern to light, there would have been a reward rather than punishment.
To accomplish this, leaders need to reinforce candor, in every phase of operations. It has to be a recognized policy that seeing something amiss brings with it an obligation to speak up, but that is OK because speaking up will bring rewards.
When leaders at all levels reward the whistle blower, it sets up a culture of high trust because it drives out fear. One of my favorite quotes is, “The absence of fear is the incubator of trust.”
The concept or rewarding candor creates opportunities for leaders to see things that would otherwise be hidden and take corrective action before the tsunami gets started.
It also allows leaders to be fallible human beings and make mistakes without having them become a reason for them to spend the rest of their life in jail.
So here is a good test of your leadership ability. How transparent is your organization? Do you truly reward employees when they bring up things that do not seem right to them, or are they put down and punished?
Bob Whipple is CEO of Leadergrow Inc., a company dedicated to growing leaders. He speaks and conducts seminars on building trust in organizations.
There is an interesting form of body language that some people do while they are talking. It is moving their head from side to side. I am not sure what the origin is, but I see it in some commercials where people are advertising a healthcare service.
My guess is that the gesture is intended to make the person speaking seem to be more believable or genuine. It may be interpreted as being sincere, as in saying, “We are going to take good care of your mother.”
The gesture can also be observed when people eat particularly delicious food. I suppose the meaning is, “I can’t believe how good this Key Lime Pie tastes.”
You also see the gesture used in politics, particularly by female politicians. Two people I have seen do this on numerous occasions are Elizabeth Warren and Hillary Clinton. It seems incongruous because, for most people, moving the head from side to side is thought to mean “no,” but these women use it to appear more credible.
The gesture is also commonly used to convey disbelief. If someone is telling you a tall tale about how he ate two gallons of ice cream in one sitting, you might be shaking your head slowly from side to side in disbelief. Remember the old adage, “never eat anything bigger than your head.”
The gesture, as with many other parts of body language, is culture specific.There are some cultures where the gesture is seen much more often than in the USA and with a different meaning. For example, in some southern European Countries such as Albania or Bulgaria, the gesture means “yes” rather than “no.”
Another interesting observation is that when babies are hungry for breast milk, they nod their heads up and down, but when they want to reject the breast milk they move their heads from side to side. Of course, babies do not have the cultural programming for gestures that come along later in life.
Another variant of the side to side head gesture is the Indian or South Asian Head Bobble. Here the head does move from side to side but it sort of rocks or tilts back and forth on top of the neck. In these cultures, the gesture is very common, and it can mean different things based on the context. One common meaning is, “I understand.” Another meaning can be, “Thank you.” If done slowly and with a slight frown, it often means, “I respectfully decline.”
Look for the head shaking gesture, and when you see it, look for other clues, such as the configuration of the mouth or the position of the eyebrows. These secondary clues can help you determine the true meaning of the gesture in that instance. Of course, the context of what is going on also will give you valuable insights.
This is a part in a series of articles on “Body Language” by Bob Whipple “The Trust Ambassador.”
I have been studying body language since my wife bought me a book on it in 1979. There is still much to learn, and I will never can know it all.
We sometimes get fooled when observing another person’s body language. That can happen for a number of reasons. Here are a few of them:
1. The person may be from a different culture or background from us. 2. We fail to take into account what is happening around the BL signal – the context. 3. We rely on a single gesture to imply full meaning rather than clusters. 4. The gestures we are seeing are not consistent with the words the person is using.
The third point is the topic of this article. Looking at a single gesture and applying meaning has a significant danger for misinterpretation.
If you are observing another person making three or more gestures that are all consistent, then your chances of accurately decoding the emotion being conveyed are greatly increased.
For example, If I see a person with raised eyebrows, I might interpret it as worry or anxiety. That may or may not be true. People raise their eyebrows for a number of reasons.
However, if I witness a person who is shuffling weight from one foot to the other while putting a finger in his collar and moving it back and forth while simultaneously showing a frown with the mouth and raised eyebrows, I can be quite certain this person is experiencing anxiety.
Let’s look at another example. Suppose I see a woman whose eyebrows are furrowed. I may assume she is angry, and that could be the case. But, if I also witness her with flared nostrils, hands on her hips, shoulders back, chin jutting forward, I had better get ready to do some serious groveling.
Another trick is to observe the fleeting gestures, also called “micro expressions.” These gestures happen so quickly we might miss them if we are not on the alert.
A micro expression may be as short as 1/30th of a second. Observing a series of micro expressions that all point in the same direction is a great way to improve the accuracy of reading the body language signals.
Note: The material on shaking hands in this video no longer applies until conditions with COVID-19 change, but you can see a great example of a micro expression at 4 minutes and 46 seconds into the video.
At that point in the video, I am talking about ways to show your eagerness to meet the other person.
I first describe your body language if you are really positive and have a good feeling when approaching the other person. I then go on to explain the negative side, if you are not particularly happy about meeting this person.
Just before going with the negative side, I pull my mouth tight and to the side. It is only for a fraction of a second, but that gesture is a micro expression that signals that I am moving from a positive frame of mind to a negative one.
When I was making the video, I had no knowledge that I was making a micro expression. It was only when I reviewed the video later that I saw the gesture.
It is typical that we are conscious of only a tiny fraction of the body language signals we are sending to others. Observing all of the body language signals that are coming in, including the micro expressions will enhance your ability to detect a cluster.
You also need to consider that a person can be experiencing multiple emotions at the same time. For example, a person may be feeling embarrassed with a hint or regret or even grief. That would allow for multiple signals to be sent simultaneously. The permutations are countless.
Get in the habit of looking for auxiliary clues when witnessing emotions expressed through body language. If you make a conscious effort to look for multiple signals, you will gain strength in this important life skill.
This is a part in a series of articles on “Body Language” by Bob Whipple “The Trust Ambassador.”
As a training and development professional, how many times a week do you hear leaders say, “We’ve got to motivate our people?” Believe it or not, that phrase often leads to lower rather than higher motivation.
Seeking to motivate people is the most common thought pattern leaders use every day, so what’s wrong with it?
Trying to motivate people shows a lack of understanding about what motivation is and how it is achieved.
Leaders who think this way put the cart before the horse and do not make the necessary mind shift to do the things that actually do improve motivation.
So, what is the cart and what is the horse? The cart is the culture of the organization that either enables or extinguishes motivation. The horse is how satisfied people feel at any particular moment.
. Why do leaders reverse the conventional order; try to motivate people by making them feel good?
1. Poor understanding of motivation –
The notion that by adding perks or benefits we somehow make people more motivated is flawed. Over 50 years ago, Frederick Herzberg taught us that increasing the so-called “hygiene factors” is a good way to sweeten things (reduce dissatisfaction), but a poor way to increase motivation.
Why? – because goodies like parties, bonuses, hat days, games, , etc. often help people become happier at work, but they do little to impact the reasons they are motivated to do their best work.
2. Taking the easy way out –
Many leaders believe that by heaping nice things on top of people it will feel like a better culture. The only way to improve the culture is to build trust.
By focusing on a better culture, managers enable people to motivate themselves.
3. Using the wrong approach –
It is difficult to motivate another person. You can scare a person into compliance, but that’s not motivation, it is fear.
You can bribe a person into feeling happy, but that’s not motivation it is temporary euphoria that is quickly replaced by a “what have you done for me lately” mentality.
4. Focusing on perks –
Individuals will gladly accept any kind of perk the boss is willing to hand out, but the reason they go the extra mile is a personal choice based on the level of motivational factors, not the size of the reward.
Putting the horse in front of the cart means working on the culture to build trust first.
Improving the motivating factors, such as authority, reinforcement, growth, and responsibility creates the right environment. Motivation within people will happen, and it will endure.
Why do I make this distinction? I believe motivation comes from within each of us. As a manager or leader, I do not believe you or anyone else can motivate other people.
What you can do is create a process or culture whereby employees will decide to become motivated to perform at peak levels. An example is when you set a vision and goals then allow people to use their initiative to get the job done as they see fit.
How can we tell when a leader has the wrong understanding about motivation? A clear signal is when the word “motivate” is used as a verb – for example, “Let’s see if we can motivate the team by having a picnic.”
If leaders seek to change other people’s attitude about work with perks, they are going to be disappointed frequently. To motivate is not something you “do to other people,” rather it is something that is always within people that only they choose to let come out.
Using the word “motivation” as a noun usually shows a better understanding – “Let’s increase the motivation in our workforce by giving the team more autonomy.
An organization where all people are pursuing a common vision in a healthy environment of trust has a sustainable competitive advantage due to high employee motivation. The way to create this is to build a culture of TRUST and affection within the organization.
You accomplish this through consistency and by letting people know it is safe to voice their opinion without fear of reprisal. You work to inspire people with a vision of a better existence for them and by really hearing their input. Doing this helps employees become motivated because:
• They feel a part of a winning team and do not want to let the team down. Being a winner is fun. • They feel both intrinsic and extrinsic rewards when they are doing their best work, and that is what drives their behaviors. • They appreciate their co-workers and seek ways to help them physically and emotionally. • They understand the goals of the organization and are personally committed to help as much as they can in the pursuit of the goals. • They truly enjoy the social interactions with peers. They feel that going to work is a little like going bowling, except they are distributing computers instead of rolling a ball at wooden pins. • They deeply respect their leaders and want them to be successful. • They feel like they are part owners of the company and want it to succeed. By doing so, they bring success to themselves and their friends at work. • They feel recognized for their many contributions and feel wonderful about that. If there is a picnic or a cash bonus, that is just the icing on the cake: not the full meal.
For an organization, “culture” means how people interact, what they believe, and how they create. If you could peel off the roof of an organization, you would see the manifestations of the culture in the physical world.
The actual culture is more esoteric because it resides in the hearts and minds of the society. It is the impetus for observable behaviors.
Achieving a state where all people are fully engaged is a large undertaking. It requires tremendous focus and leadership to achieve. It cannot be something you do on Tuesday afternoons or when you have special meetings.
Describe it as a new way of life rather than a program. You should see evidence of this in every nook and cranny of the organization.
Do not put the cart in front of the horse by attempting to motivate people with special events or gifts. Instead, increase the motivating factors and build a culture of trust. The end result is that many people will choose to be highly motivated, and the organization will prosper.
Bob Whipple is known internationally as “The Trust Ambassador.” He is CEO of Leadergrow Inc. a leadership Development organization.
Over the past 20 years, I have taught Business and Leadership at seven universities, along with several hundred corporate and professional groups.
One thing that has disappointed me is the discussion of corporate culture in most of the MBA textbooks. They usually leave out the most important parts of culture. This topic has fascinated me for years.
The success and longevity of any organization is directly linked to its culture. We sometimes notice the parts that make up culture, but often they are transparent because they are just a part of doing business in a particular group.
If we stop to think about what defines culture and work to manage or influence it, we can uncover some powerful leadership leverage.
Most of the Leadership textbooks I have read describe the culture in terms of physical attributes that characterize an organization.
For example, here is a typical list of the things purported to make up a company culture.
1. Physical structure 2. Language and symbols 3. Rituals, ceremonies, gossip, and jokes 4. Stories, legends, and heroes 5. Beliefs 6. Values and norms 7. Assumptions
The above list is a montage of the lists in several textbooks. When you think about it, these items do go a long way toward defining the culture of an organization.
Unfortunately, I believe these items fall short, because they fail to include the emotions of the people. After all, organizations are made up of people, at all levels, interacting in a social structure for a purpose.
Let us extend the list of things that make up the culture of an organization to include how the people feel.
1. Is there a high level of trust within the organization? 2. To what extent do people have the opportunity to grow in this organization? 3. Do people feel safe and secure, or are they basically fearful? 4. How do people treat each other on their own level and on higher or lower levels? 5. Is the culture inclusive or exclusive? 6. Do people generally feel like winners or losers at work? 7. Is the culture one of reinforcement or punishment? 8. Are managers viewed as enablers or barriers? 9. Are people trying to get into the organization or trying to get out? 10. What is the level of satisfaction for people in this organization? 11. Can people “speak their truth” without fear of reprisal? 12. Do people follow the rules or find ways to avoid following them?
I could go on with another 20-30 things that relate to the human side of culture. I hope you agree that the items above are at least as important as the items on the first list in terms of describing the culture.
Why then do most textbooks on leadership not mention them when they discuss culture? It baffles me.
Perhaps the view is that these “people-centered” items are best discussed separately and only the “system-centered” items define the culture. Personally, I do not agree with that.
Let’s zoom in on just one item of my list above: item #1. The level of trust in an organization is actually the most significant part of the culture, in my opinion.
The reason I put Trust in the front and center of culture is that with high trust, all of the other things (rituals, ceremonies, values, language, etc.) work to engage people in the business. With low trust, you can have all the trappings, but people will laugh at you behind your back.
You are probably familiar with the CEO who spouts out the values at every chance, but does not live them, so there is no trust. The values are just a useless pile of words.
In fact, they are worse than useless, because every time the CEO mentions the values it reminds people what a hypocrite he or she is.
Why is Trust so powerful? Let’s contrast a few dimensions for a company with high trust versus one with low trust to view the impact.
All organizations have a steady stream of problems. If the culture is one of low trust, each problem represents a high hurdle to overcome. We have to stop everything and have a meeting to figure out who said what and try to unscramble the mess.
We also have to contend with the interpersonal squabbles that are part of a low trust culture.
If there is high trust, first of all there will be fewer problems, but then the remaining problems are easily overcome, like pebbles in the road we kick aside with our shoe. We can focus energy on the vision rather than the problems.
Any problems will be resolved quickly, and the solutions will be of higher quality, because people will not be afraid to voice their creative ideas.
In groups with low trust, trying to communicate is like walking on eggs. Every word or phrase is a potential trigger for a sarcastic remark. Things are frequently taken the wrong way and create damage to control.
With high trust, communication seems easy. People have the ability to “hear between the lines” and the instinctively know the intent of the message even if the words come out wrong. Employees are not coiled and ready to strike anytime there is an opportunity.
In areas of low trust, people are focusing on protecting themselves or bringing other people down. Most of the energy is directed inward to the organization in numerous battles that really don’t help the organization succeed.
If trust is high, people are feeling aligned, so their focus is outward at the opportunities (customers) or threats (competition). This shift in focus from inward battles to outward opportunities is huge in terms of organizational success.
When trust is low, rumors spring up due to poor communication. Since there is nothing to retard them, they take on a life of their own.
The rumors and gossip spread like wildfire all over the organization creating significant damage control for management.
In areas of high trust, there will still be rumors from time to time, but they will be easily extinguished before they do significant damage. This is because people believe management when they say something is not true.
Look at the people in an organization of low trust; what is their general attitude? Usually it is one of apathy. They need their job in order to live, but they dearly wish it wasn’t such a struggle.
Now look at the attitude of people in an organization of high trust. You will see passion and motivation to really help the organization succeed. The difference here is huge in terms of organizational survival.
For one thing, customers notice the difference immediately. You know the feeling of sitting in a restaurant where the trust level between management and the servers is low.
You get an uncomfortable feeling and may net even realize why you decide to not patronize the place again.
With these differences, the result when workers have high trust has been shown by several authors is that they are between 2-5 times more productive than low trust groups.
Think of the number of organizations where managers are constantly feeling under-staffed. “We need more people,” is the common phrase.
My retort is that it is a leadership problem. What you need is not more people, but better leaders who know how to build a great culture of trust.
We could go on with numerous more examples of the difference between a culture of high trust and low trust, and that is only the first item on the list above.
I hope it is obvious that having the right kind of culture makes all the difference in the ability to survive in business.
Take the time and energy to work on your culture; the ROI is astronomical.
The preceding information was adapted from the book The TRUST Factor: Advanced Leadership for Professionals, by Robert Whipple. It is available on http://www.leadergrow.com. Mr. Whipple is also the author of Leading with Trust is like Sailing Downwind, , and Trust in Transition: Navigating Organizational Change. Bob consults and speaks on these and other leadership topics. He is CEO of Leadergrow Inc. a company dedicated to growing leaders.