Create a Purposeful, Positive, Productive Work Culture with an Organizational Constitution

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What’s on your to-do list today? I’ll wager that “building workplace civility” doesn’t appear on that list—but it’s something that all leaders should be investing in daily.

Why? Our workplaces aren’t great places to hang out in.

Researcher Christine Porath found that 98 percent of the employees she’s interviewed over the past 20 years have experienced incivility or rudeness in the workplace.

Only 35 percent of employees across the globe are actively engaged at work, according to Gallup’s recent State of the Global Workplace report. That number hasn’t shifted significantly in more than two decades.

Respectful treatment of all employees at all organizational levels occurs in only 38 percent of workplaces worldwide, according to a 2017 survey from the Society for Human Resources Management.

And only 22 percent of employees (who receive little supervisory support on the job) would recommend their company as a good place to work.

Your organization may be much better off than these studies indicate, but I’ll bet there are opportunities for your organization to improve the health and quality of its work culture.

Is your culture bent or broken? Fix it

Why don’t leaders simply “fix” their unhealthy work cultures? Because they’ve never been asked to do that. Most don’t know how to do that. They’ve never experienced a successful culture change, much less led one.

The good news is that executives agree that culture matters. Eighty percent of executives rated the employee experience, including organizational culture, engagement, and the employee brand proposition, as very important or important. And only 22 percent believe their companies are excellent at building a positive employee experience.

Even better news? Leaders can fix their bent or broken work cultures. Once leaders embrace their responsibility to create a purposeful, positive, productive work culture, this proven three-step process will guide the way.

Define your values

The first step, define, requires senior leaders to formalize their desired culture through an organizational constitution. An organizational constitution is a written document that specifies your company’s servant purpose, values and behaviors, strategies and goals.

Your servant purpose clearly describes your company’s present day “reason for being” besides making money. Making money (or selling coffee or cars or computers, etc.) is certainly important for the long-term success of your business, but it is not naturally motivating to the majority of your workforce. Those employees understand making money is important, but they don’t typically get up in the morning excited to “make more money for our stakeholders”!

A servant purpose describes what you do (your product or service), whom you do it for (your customers or consumers), and “to what end”—how what you do improves customers’ quality of life every day.

Most company mission or purpose statements don’t meet these criteria—and they don’t have a positive effect on employees. Here’s an actual purpose statement for a real company:

“Creating superior value for our customers, employees, partners, and shareholders.”

Is it clear what they do? No. (They are a tire company). Is it clear who the company’s primary “customers” are? No. Is it clear how what the company does improves others’ quality of life? No.

Compare that to this purpose statement from a pharmaceutical company Bristol-Myers Squibb:

“To discover, develop, and deliver innovative medicines that help patients prevail over serious diseases.”

Is it clear what they do? Absolutely. Is it clear for who they do it? Absolutely. Is it clear to what end employees are toiling, how they improve customers quality of life? Absolutely.

This purpose statement creates clarity on how their customers benefit, which creates meaning and significance for employees every day.

Values must be observable, tangible and measurable—just as performance standards are observable, tangible and measurable. If your company has values defined, they probably are not measurable. They are attitudinal (“We act with integrity”) as opposed to behavioral (“I do what I say I will do”).

Only when values are behaviorally defined do they become actionable. Behavioral definitions shift values from vague ideas to clear requirements for good citizenship.

One client, a seven-state region of the world’s largest retailer, defined their customer service value with behaviors like these:

  • I initiate friendly hospitality by promptly and enthusiastically smiling and acknowledging everyone who comes within 10 feet.
  • I ensure that each customer is assisted in finding requested items.
  • I deliver a clean, fast, friendly experience to each customer.

What you notice about these behaviors (three of eight of their service behaviors) is that they are measurable. Someone could observe me working over a week’s time and be able to rate the degree to which I model these specific behaviors.

Another client, a three-state region of a waste management provider, defined their respect value with these behaviors:

  • I seek and genuinely listen to others’ opinions.
  • I do not act or speak rudely or discount others.
  • I work to resolve problems and differences by directly communicating with the people involved.

Again, these behaviors are measurable,not attitudinal. These behaviors outline a very narrow avenue to demonstrate respect in this division.

Other companies that have formalized their values in behavioral terms include the WD-40 Companies (WD-40 Company: The corporate values that guide us) and Ritz-Carlton Gold Standards.

Strategies and goals are probably already defined in your organization (most do define performance expectations and strategies). Including them in your organizational constitution ensures that team leaders and team members understand that values demonstration and performance accomplishment are equally important.

Where real traction occurs: Alignment

The second step, align, is the hard part. This is where senior leaders demonstrate their new valued behaviors in every interaction and coach others to do the same.

By defining your organizational constitution and announcing the new servant purpose, values and behaviors, don’t assume that anyone will model those behaviors. They won’t model them until they see senior leaders living them, coaching them, praising them, and redirecting misaligned behaviors.

In this phase, you no longer tolerate bad behavior. You don’t allow or ignore aggressive behavior, rude behavior, demeaning behavior, harassment, teasing, etc. ever again.

You simply model your valued behaviors and hold everyone accountable for demonstrating your valued behaviors in every interaction, every day.

A vital element of the align phase is conducting a values survey. Just as you monitor performance daily, you need to create a clear, reliable means to monitor values alignment. A custom values survey does that. It allows employees to rate their bosses on how well those bosses demonstrate your valued behaviors.

A values survey must be done regularly—at least twice a year. Some clients are using weekly pulse surveys (one question a week that takes three minutes for employees to complete online with their smartphones or computers) to keep a more frequent tally of values alignment.

The third step, refine, happens every two years or so with a review of your valued behaviors: updating the list, revising the list, etc. to continue holding everyone to high standards of trust and respectful treatment of others as your culture evolves. Your servant purpose and values rarely change. Your strategies and goals might change annually.

Through these steps—define, align, and refine—you can craft a purposeful, positive, productive work culture. Don’t leave your culture to chance. Be intentional with an organizational constitution. 

S. Chris Edmonds

S. Chris Edmonds is a speaker, author and executive consultant who is the founder of The Purposeful Culture Group. He's one of Inc. magazine’s 100 Great Leadership Speakers and was a featured presenter at SXSW 2015. Edmonds is the author of the Amazon bestseller The Culture Engine and five other books. Connect with him on his blog, Twitter, Vimeo or YouTube.

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