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A reader posted a few questions about the eBook 13 character traits of a great culture:

·        How do you know clearly and for sure that “people are encouraged to take their time”?

·        How do you know clearly and for sure that “people value each other more than processes and systems”?

·        How do you know clearly and for sure that “people are taking personal responsibility”?

Mark’s questions were excellent because we need to evaluate our culture pointedly and consistently. My friend Mark Lamoncha says, “You can’t manage what you can’t measure.” As leaders, we can live the 13 character traits and our culture could still be a mess. We could give bonuses, trips, and company cars and still have employees who hate coming to work. We could give consistent positive feedback and still have people rolling their eyes when we walk away. So how do we know whether or not you have a healthy culture?

A healthy culture starts and ends with connection. Not communication, not product distribution, not service, and not the general ledger. The health of those areas are a benefit of the connection of your team. If your team is well connected, the other aspects of the become healthy as well. What keeps teams connected? Honesty and authenticity. Here are three exercises to open honesty and authenticity on your team.

1.  Ask tough questions about your culture

Ask the tough questions face-to-face. Don’t look for all positives. Don’t look for an ego massage. Don’t avoid bad news. Andy Stanley said, “If all you accept is good news, eventually you’ll be surrounded by people who have nothing useful to say.” You can’t fix what’s broken if you don’t know what’s broken. Here are a few questions to ask:

·        On a scale of 1-10 (1- lowest, 10- highest) how well do you feel we’re living our values? Follow up: If not a 10, what do we need to do to get it to 10?

·        If I gave you a magic wand, what’s one thing you’d improve about our culture?

·        What’s some ways we can improve the connection in our culture?

·        Our vision is (share the vision of your organization). What could we do to move faster towards our vision?

·        Our mission is (share the vision of your organization). How do you see this mission being lived by the people in our                culture?

Never forget this: No matter how kind, generous, gracious, and peace-loving you are, people who work for you will always have a modicum of fear towards you. You sign their paychecks and can affect their employment. The mind is built for survival, so when asked tough questions about your culture, people’s first tendency is to protect themselves, which means you won’t get complete authenticity at first. But if you’re authentic, and you’re willing to share your frustrations, opinions, and shortcomings with your team, they will share theirs with you.

2. Meet once per month to discuss your culture as a team

Part of connection is spending time together. Teach lessons about your values, and reemphasize your mission and vision. Talk about the wins and losses from the previous months. Highlight people on your team who have are helping to move your culture forward. Discuss specific challenges and ask the team for feedback on how the organization should handle them. Don’t shut people’s suggestions down, even if they’re bad ideas. Allow them to share freely, and if the team comes up with great suggestions, implement them immediately to solidify your connection.

3. Give anonymous surveys each month.

Surveys should be simple and anonymous. You want to give people the ability to speak their mind in a safe zone, free of backlash. If you want a few survey questions, you could take the questions in #1 and put them into a survey tool. Always ask scale questions about your values so you can get a mean average. Let’s say your organizations values are Character, Discipline, and Unity, here’s an example of how to survey it:

Please answer the following questions with complete honesty. If you have positive or negative feedback, please share them in the comments and suggestions section. Please do not put your name on this document.

Circle the following questions: “1” is Not at all and “10” is All the time

1.      Are we living Character?  1    2    3    4    5    6    7    8     9     10

2.      Are we living Discipline?   1    2    3    4    5    6    7    8     9     10

3.      Are we living Unity?           1    2    3    4    5    6    7    8     9     10       

If the answers above were not a “10” what do we need to do to improve?

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Comments and Suggestions:

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Gather the averages and look for patterns in the written answers. If suggestions for improvement are the same across departments, you will want to address it immediately. Surveys are a great tool for getting real feedback while making people feel protected. Do them regularly.

In March 2017, my new book Creating Culture: 5 steps to a fulfilling and prosperous organization will be coming out. In that book I will be answering these questions in much more detail, but in the meantime these three exercises should help you evaluate the health of your culture. As a leader your job is to create a healthy environment for your team to thrive. It takes constant work and vigilance. As sure as a farmer is going to see noxious weeds, crop-eating bugs, and little foxes that eat their fruit, is as sure as you’re going to see challenges to your culture. But if you know the challenges and can address them quickly, you can have the type of harvest others only dream of.

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