This is the third post of a multi-post series, the Leadership Tetrahedron.
Many organizational culture and performance culture how-to articles exist. Managers often turn to those types of references as a quick-fix, or at least a remedy for increasing performance. In many cases performance increases for a short while; in worst cases the money is wasted and no discernible change is recorded. Why? Performance isn’t an add-on. Performance is a natural progression to an improved state, that begins with establishing a culture of action. Spelling it out is good, and that’s a great start–define the cultural norms that are acceptable–then model those. In the same way music is created from a dozen notes, culture is created with a half-dozen basic ingredients: emotions, attitudes, behaviors, values, relationships, and environment.
Emotions: The best way to define/model is to start at the base level of culture, emotions. There are four emotions that research across cultures proves to be the most critical. Two are negative, two are positive. In our everyday actions, keep at the forefront this message: we want to produce these two positive emotions, Joy and Satisfaction. Even in negative situations, we can begin by telling people what we appreciate about them. We can start each conversation by focusing on something to get people to laugh or feel good about themselves. The two emotions we want to avoid producing are Fear and Anxiety. These two emotions lead to negative attitudes that are extremely difficult to change. As a manager and a leader, if I consciously think about how to NOT produce those two emotions in every single interaction, I get much better results.
Attitudes: Prominent psychologist Gordon Allport once described attitudes “the most distinctive and indispensable concept in contemporary social psychology.” Carl Jung’s definition of attitude is a “readiness of the psyche to act or react in a certain way”. Attitudes are formed based on continual presence of (positive or negative) emotions associated with a particular event, person, etc. Therefore, attitudes can change (and be manipulated) through experience. As a manager and leader, I can increase the likelihood of positive experiences for my direct reports.
Behaviors: Several behavioral theories are useful in practice, Social Learning Theory (Bandura), Theory of Reasoned Action (Fishbein & Ajzen) & Theory of Planned Behavior (Ajzen), are the three that I’ve found to be consistently valuable. As a leader and manager, I have the authority to effect consequences of behaviors and to reward my reports’ feelings of self-efficacy. I also have the opportunity to change the perception of control by allowing my reports to establish community norms and standards insofar as feasible. Involving and developing key reports into prominent positions of authority is a great way to accomplish and foster positive behaviors and establish a sense of ownership. When my reports ‘act like owners’ behavior is most often positive.
Values: Shared values allow an organization to shape its culture and to define its character. Core values have become increasingly important, particularly when developing an organizational strategic plan. It is important that I do not simply clone others’ values and take them as my own. Employees need to be involved in values selection and clarification. There are many activities through which HRD/OD professionals may facilitate company values clarification. The best activities reach back to the emotional level, and create shared joy and sense of accomplishment/satisfaction at the outcomes. Reinforcing those values often (even daily) through inexpensive public activities/displays will help cement the value-centered culture.
Relationships: The absolute best way to foster positive relationships between employees is to involve them in activities that achieve personal and organizational goals. When I ask my reports to draft goals/project plans that also achieve their individual development needs I get innovation, I get creativity, I get passion. Partnering individuals, or creating groups, based on those developmental needs and how those relate to our organizational goals is indeed the definitive win-win situation. As the leader/manager, my job is to help break those goals down into achievable, measurable, and rewardable milestones, and then celebrate victories as often as possible. Remember, joy and satisfaction.
Environment: Research shows that happiness is strongly related to transparency. Creating and fostering an environment of transparency is becoming more vital than ever. Increasing transparency requires little financial investment other than my time as a leader/manager, communicating to my reports. When I share results, data, numbers, with my reports I also increase a sense of ownership. Owners are more likely to take positive action and increase positive behaviors. Being transparent is well and good, but can my reports understand the information I’m sharing? Here is an excellent rationale for adding more development to the workforce. When part of my organizational environment is the expectation of learning, we all win. When I truly understand how my job ‘changes the numbers’ my sense of ownership increases. That results in action–positive action–and increased performance.