All employees, not just managers, leaders and executives, have a responsibility to embed an organisational culture supporting the vision of the business, supporting employees and balancing empowerment and accountability.

How we do things around here

Culture can be distilled to ‘how we do thing around here’.

It is unspoken, observed, mirrored and copied within and across every person and team in your organisation.

In the best execution of culture, it’s the way your values are lived every day. If you and your team are truly living the values you will have a culture demonstrating them, connected to your purpose and one people are confident recognising and rewarding while also highlighting gaps in accountability.

We contribute to a culture that isn’t good

When someone in your team, or the broader organisation, makes a comment about not having a good culture, they are acknowledging ‘how we do things around here’ isn’t as good as it should be.

And the key word in the sentence is ‘we’.

This isn’t an us vs them situation, it’s a collective responsibility and it’s often the first step to building, or re-building, a great culture – we all have to live it, every day.

Help identify shared responsibility

At this point, perhaps ask the team member for specific examples – situational of course, not attacking a person.

You could ask them when they saw this situation, what they did to hold themselves or others accountable? What did they say? How did they connect the gap in expected behaviour back to the values? Could they identify other ways to approach the situation more in line with the values, and thus creating a better culture?

Lead by example

It’s always helpful for your team to see you modelling a great culture, acknowledging when you slip and also holding others accountable.

There will perhaps be some of your team who will be comfortable holding others accountable for living the values, and hopefully, they do this in an engaging and respectful way for a great outcome. If not, coaching opportunity!

There will also be people in your team who may need phrases, angles and perspective in their ‘grab bag’ to handle situations of culture disfunction. By talking through the way you handle culture disfunction and encouraging them to use some of your approaches or find their own based on yours, you can support your team to more fully live the values and be accountable.

In this way, they are building a better ‘how we do things around here’.

Sub-cultures may be necessary

A wise (and talented) team member once explained the difficulty I was experiencing in embedding behavioural and cultural change within the team, was due to the broader culture of the organisation and a broader disconnect from the values and accountability.

The lightbulb went on.

In my senior leadership role, while I couldn’t influence the broader culture to the degree of producing change, I could more overtly talk about sub-culture and how we were modelling behaviours they might not see in other teams.

We could lead the way.
We didn’t have to meet them where they were.
We could model the behaviour we wanted to see across the organisation.
We could reframe our frustrations of behaviours and not let it stop our team from living a great culture.

We could do the things we said we were going to do, when we said we were going to do them.
We could be problem-solvers, not just problem-finders.
We could be prepared for meetings.
We could be calm in the face of crisis.
We could look for the positive in a busy day.
We could deliver outcomes, not just outputs.
We could have fun.

Culture commitments

Culture needs to be managed by each of us, not just ‘senior leadership’. We can’t just have ‘top-down’ accountability management, it is more powerful when looked as peer to peer demonstration and accountability.

If your organisation hasn’t developed an active expression of the values and how we do to things around here, perhaps culture commitments could be a good addition to your culture-building tools.

The team spent time brainstorming in a workshop about the behaviour they wanted to exhibit, or identifying behaviour they found frustrating, instead defining a behaviour to remove their frustrations.

We voted, prioritised, provided examples, voted again and identified 12 behaviours as the basis of our culture.

These were up around the office, as a reminder of what we were chasing, and an aide-memoire in times of pressure when sometimes behaviour defaults to less than excellent!