Even though my friends will laugh (or faint), I’ve decided that it’s time to talk about culture. Lately, I see so much content about this topic, and the role it can play in attracting and retaining talented people. Many of these stories focus on work experience and relationships, which I see as necessary but not sufficient. So, instead of another blog on how to create a great place to work, I want to focus on the issue that I believe matters the most to talented people and that’s how to create a “results-oriented” culture.
FIRST, LET ME DEFINE THIS TERM. If you visit Dictionary.com and look for culture you can see this definition – the sum total of ways of living built up by a group of human beings and transmitted from one generation to another. If you take this basic idea and add results, then a “results-oriented” culture includes ways of living that expect and enable both individual and organizational success.
NEXT, LET’S LOOK AT SOME OF THE CONDITIONS YOU WOULD FIND IN A RESULTS-ORIENTED CULTURE.
• Work from an explicit, shared purpose. For me, purpose is different from vision or mission or values. Purpose is a definition of what you’re trying to create as an organization (beyond money) and how you will create it. When defined and used effectively, purpose is the criterion that can guide all other decisions and actions, and empower self-direction.
• Elevate results over activities. This idea may seem obvious, but it’s less common that you might expect. Most organizations claim to be results-focused and can show you targets, but people will often focus more on action than impact, and they may struggle to link decisions and actions to desired results.
• Create expectations for mutual accountability. Many people muddle along under the illusion that someone is in charge. Actually, no one person has all the information, can see all the challenges, or make all the decisions. Results-oriented organizations expect everyone to anticipate risks, engage critical issues, and surface and resolve conflicts that block results.
• Confront and remedy off-track performance. The most important component of mutual accountability is to discuss off-track performance directly and effectively. I often see people collude to avoid these discussions, perhaps in the hope they won’t be confronted themselves. Unfortunately, when people finally have the discussion, it’s typically too late and it takes the form of judging failure rather than improving results.
• Reward organization results more than individual results. I’m not saying that individual rewards aren’t important, because they are. However, I believe that greater weight should be placed on organization results, which are the product of mutual accountability and joint action.
FINALLY, WHAT STEPS SHOULD YOU TAKE TO CREATE THIS CULTURE?
1. Select for and develop a systems perspective. To create mutual accountability, you need people who will surface and address risks to the enterprise, even in the face of disapproval or opposition – and even if that opposition come from powerful people. This “systems” perspective does not come from training or tenure alone, but must be selected for, coached, and reinforced by organizational leaders.
2. Have the difficult conversations about purpose. Strategy is necessary but not sufficient. Purpose clarification is one effective approach to strategy formulation, but formulation is not the end, it’s only the beginning. Once you have an explicit purpose, you must act as if it matters, by testing proposed decisions and actions, and even disagreeing openly when needed.
3. Define the contribution to results from every role. Most goals I’ve seen focused on actions and/or outputs. The few goals that focused on results (say sales targets) usually didn’t include any information about how to achieve the result. Effective goals must have two components – what result will be created and what actions and outputs will create the result. And they should identify and account for the dependencies required to create results.
4. Set and manage expectations for self-directed performance. Even in this age, most people don’t work with an expectation of self-directed performance. They look to others to define goals and test performance, they avoid or “pass along” difficult conversations, and they often rely on others to remove roadblocks to performance. If you expect mutual accountability, then you need self-direction performance management.
5. Build leadership skills at all levels. For people to become more self-directed, they need to have access to some essential leadership skills. Regardless of role or contribution, who doesn’t need to influence others’ commitment, surface and resolve conflicts that block performance, and manage performance after commitment. And, to achieve a goal of mutual accountability, you must develop these skills using a collaborative, not controlling, leadership style.
6. Reinforce both results and mutual accountability. I’ve often said that virtually all results are the product of many hands, and yet reinforcement systems don’t always reflect this fact. If you want people to have a results-oriented culture, you must reward results while recognizing the interdependence.