The Great Wall of China is over 5,500 miles long, over 15 feet high, and 20 feet wide. The wall started being built in 770 BC to protect China from enemies who pillaged, raided, and threatened their way of life. The wall also served as border patrol, a control for commerce trade routes, and was accountability for citizenship. The wall has stood for thousands of years and is an artifact of Chinese culture’s impact on the world.
Your culture needs it’s own “Great Wall.” The wall for your organization are the values, mission, and standards you agree upon. Your wall be there to protect you against enemies who pillage, raid, and threaten your way of life. Your wall will also serve as a control for buying, selling, and trading. And It will hold you accountable for decisions that affect your culture.
Building a great wall involves everyone
The Great Wall of China was built by thousands of people over a long period. Most leaders go into ventures with the desire to do something great. They have plans of building a billion-dollar business, turning around a fledgling department, or advancing a mission to change the world. They put the plans together, start the operation, and over time business increases. They recruit a few people to help them, but they only allow people to help them exactly the way they want them to. They then have people who are good at completing tasks, but don’t take ownership for the business. What is the result of these decisions? Add a sentence or two to complete this thought.
You cannot build a great wall unless people take ownership and responsibility for their portion of the wall. The team is collectively responsible for the culture and the results of your business. Your job as the leader is to provide the tools, teach the skills, and empower your people to build and fortify the walls of your culture.
STEPS FOR BUILDING THE WALLS OF YOUR CULTURE
- Ask the entire organization for forgiveness
Depending on the size of your organization, you and the other leaders will need to reiterate your shortcomings and ask the entire team for forgiveness. Be sure to tell the team what you did at your leadership meeting and how committed you are to making sure your culture is healthy and vibrant. Emphasize the value of each team member and stress how you and the rest of the leaders are committed to leading them in finding and working in their strengths. At the end of this, provide opportunities for questions and discussion. If you’re in a very large organization, you may want to do this through departments or divisions to give enough room for people to speak up.
- Share the company’s vision
If people don’t know where they are going or don’t know how to get to where they want to go, they are lost. A leader’s greatest opportunity is to create, refine, and share vision. Your vision is the preferred future and what your team will become. It is also a pseudo succession plan for you and the other leaders. My recommendation is you develop a 20, 10, 5, and 3-year vision. In your vision, include what your artifacts will be, how the team will interact with each other, WIIFM – What’s In It For Me, and what your impact on society will be. Give a vibrant presentation and make sure you give time afterwards for questions, comments, and concerns. (NOTE: If you need help developing your vision download the VISION DEVELOPMENT DOCUMENTS on the Mainstream Leadership Network membership site.)
- Define/Redefine your values
This is where you start building the walls. As I stated earlier, our values are more important to us than life. Values bond people’s hearts and minds towards a common purpose. The key to defining or redefining your values is giving everyone a say. From CEO to line handler, from sales to operations, and from accounting to logistics, everyone needs to have input. If you don’t give them this opportunity, you can’t expect them to buy into the values. Once the values are set or revised, you want to ensure they are known by your employees. The word education comes from the Latin word educo, which means to draw out. Providing information is not good enough, you must ensure the company’s values have been learned. You must educate when it comes to choosing your culture’s values. Your values will become the foundation for every decision you make, so everyone must agree and be on the same page.
If you have multiple locations, you may want to do a simulcast (look for tools online). Have facilitators designated ahead of time. Break your teams into groups of 7-10 people. If possible, pair people with those they don’t work with on a regular basis. Picking the values could take a day, week, or even up to a month. Make sure the groups are designated and named (by colors, shapes, or numbers – or make it fun and allow them to choose a nickname). Once groups are formed, do a few icebreaker questions to get the team thinking and talking. Here are a few examples:
- What’s the greatest piece of advice a parent or mentor has given you?
- What technological innovation made the most impact on your life?
- Describe a challenging situation you’ve been in and tell how you resolved it?
- How would you spend one million dollars?
- Who is your hero, and why?
- Tell us your earliest childhood memory.
- Who was your favorite teacher in school and how did s/he impact you?
- If you could choose an age to remain forever, which age would you choose?
- What is one important skill every person should have?
- What is your favorite sport to watch?
Once the icebreaker section is complete, talk to team the importance of values. Explain how shared values are what bind people’s hearts and minds. Tell them how values are more important to people than their lives. Use the information in Step 1 to assist you. Afterwards, explain how you are going to collectively choose the values. Be adamant that everyone needs to give input. Remind the team that each member of the team is just as important as the next.
Have each group answer the following:
- If we were to go out of business tomorrow, what would our clients miss about us?
- What three values bind us together as a team?
- What values do we want to be known for?
- As a group, pick the three values you want to be known for from this day on and be prepared to discuss why you picked those values.
When everyone is finished discussing these questions, the facilitator needs to have a white board ready to write down answers. Ask the groups to share the three values they chose and write them on the board. If you have duplicates from table to table put an extra checkmark next to that word. As you’re writing down the words, have the groups explain why they chose those values. Take your time and be sure to give everyone the opportunity to share their thoughts and ideas. Once all the values are written down, narrow the overall number to three. You will want values that cover the strategic, operational, and administration breakdown of an organization.
For example, MLN’s (Mainstream Leadership Network) values are Connection, Compassion, and Transformation. Connection is our strategic value. Anytime we are looking to grow, we think about ways we can connect better with our client base and potential clients. Compassion is our operational value. We want to always have compassion on our clients. Compassion combines sympathy and empathy and adds in the passion to help. We are always trying to keep our hearts in the right place so we will have the passion to help our clients live fulfilled and impactful lives. Transformation is our administrative value. Transformation is our goal for our clients. We continually ask and survey our clients to see if transformation is taking place. If it is not, then we go back to our strategic value of connection. We want to make sure we relate to the mind and heart of our clients, then we check our compassion, then we look for transformation again. Our values are what leads us. Just like the values in the Constitution of the United States leads the country, our values lead us. They never fail us when we keep them first.
Choose your strategic, operational, and administrative values as a team. Then, define them with one sentence. Do not have a block paragraph to explain them. Use simple, universal language to explain what each value means to you. This is not easy work, so do not rush this. Allow the team to debate over what they think the values and definitions should be. If you honor each other’s opinions, you will unite in this. Here is MLN’S values and definitions:
We build lasting relationships with our clients.
We care for and help our clients.
We empower our clients to find their best solutions.
Once you have finished picking your values and defining them, ask the team to discuss how they believe this will unify you moving forward. After they have had some time to discuss, move on to defining or redefining your mission.
- Define/Redefine your mission
Mission statements are galvanizing statements to purpose your team. Your mission should give your team extra energy to finish projects on time, scope, and budget. Your mission should have you excited in anticipation about the possibilities your mission can bring. When you come up with your mission statement, it needs to be repeated frequently. Your employees, customers, and vendors should all know why you exist and what you stand for. The following are some questions that will help you define or redefine your mission.
- In 10 words or fewer, why does your company exist?
- If you were to go out of business tomorrow, what would your clients miss most about you?
- What one thing do you want all your clients to say about you?
- What is the problem in the world that your organization will fix?
Your mission should be concise, clear, and something your whole team is a part of developing. Consensus is key. Give everyone a chance to share their ideas. Your mission should be less than 10 words and should invoke passion. Some good mission statements are:
- Be our best for everyone’s success (A-Plus Powder Coaters)
- Revitalizing manufacturing in the U.S. (Humtown Products)
- Don’t do anything detrimental to yourself (Duke Basketball)
Take your time. Don’t rush the process. Make sure it’s the right statement, because you will ultimately be defined by your mission.
- Create behavioral standards and accountability
Organizations only go as far as they push themselves. If an organization has a standard 30% growth per year goal and they have accountability to keep themselves on target, the chances are high they will reach them. But if they have a 30% growth standard and no accountability, their chances decrease significantly. Systems run businesses and people run systems. Behavioral standards and accountability are systems that keep people focused on the mission, vision, and values of your organization. A recent Workplace Accountability Study recently revealed that 82% of respondents have no ability to hold others accountable, but 91% of people rank accountability as one of the top development needs they’d like to see at their organization. Without systems businesses fall apart. Businesses with standards and accountability thrive.
Standards and accountability is about protecting the heart of your organization. You don’t want long lists of rules and regulations. Heavy rules and regulations limit people from reaching their full potential. Rules and regulations also create more rules and regulations, because the more you have, the more you must interpret. Keep your standards and accountability simple. The preferred method is to create a few easy to understand guidelines which will keep the team incentivized to fulfill your mission, vision, and values. They are not about making people believe, care, or work harder. Your team should embody your values and want to run after your mission and vision. If they don’t, they are not a good fit for your organization.
The following are the categories you will want to create standards and accountability for:
A well-known statement claims “Your attitude will determine your altitude.” A positive environment is contingent on positive attitudes at the individual level. Positive attitude is a choice, but it’s also a habit. A negative attitude is much easier and much more pervasive (re-word or clarify). One mistake, a poor experience, or a loss can cause a person to think negatively. Thinking negatively then turns into negative behaviors. Most times negative behavior starts subtly, then continually grows until it affects the entire organization. Therefore, it’s important for you set attitude standards at your organization.
Questions for setting standards for attitude
- What attitudes can we not tolerate?
- How will we ensure this type of attitude does not infiltrate our organization?
- What behaviors are fitting of an employee of this organization?
- What can we do to remind each other of these behaviors?
- How can we encourage/reward each other when someone displays these behaviors?
- How will these behaviors affect our customers?
- Conflict Resolution
Whenever people communicate, there exists potential for conflict. Each of us has our own thoughts, beliefs, and opinions. They don’t always align with the others on our team. Sometimes we get angry with one another. Sometimes we may even hurt one another while trying to solve a problem. Sometimes we will “agree to disagree” but still have feelings of resentment towards one another.
Conflict is an inevitability, but it is healthy when handled properly. When not handled properly, it can destroy organizational culture. Therefore, it is vital to have standards for conflict resolution.
Questions for setting standards for conflict resolution
- What should someone do when they are offended by another team member’s behavior towards them? (e.g. talk to the other person, talk to a leader, gossip, etc.)
- When confronting someone, how do we maintain a high level of respect?
- If you confront someone and they don’t listen or they are disrespectful, what is the next step?
- If a person is offending many people on the team, what steps should you take to encourage change in that person?
- How should you handle gossip on your team?
For frame of reference, here is MLN’s Conflict Resolution Standards:
Steps to conflict resolution
- When we have a conflict with another person in the organization and it was not immediately resolved, it is your job to go directly to the person and discuss the issue. When you go directly to the person, you should first take personal responsibility for your part in the conflict and assure the other person that you desire to maintain a good relationship with them.
- If the other person does not respond then you are permitted to speak to a leader in the organization about the conflict. NOTE: Gossip will not be tolerated. If anyone gossips to you, your first response should be, “Have you talked to them first?” If the answer is “No” then you should direct them to immediately talk to the other person and follow up to ensure they did. Rabbi Boaz Michael once said, “Gossip is like leprosy to an organization; once it spreads decay quickly follows.”
If the person has spoken to the other person and they did not respond, then you may tell a leader and the leader will go with you to speak to the other person. However, you only tell another person about the conflict to reach resolution. It isn’t a means to “vent” or “get advice.”
- If the person does not respond when another person confronts them with you, then the conflict should be brought to the attention of all the leaders in the organization. They will then confront the person with you. After this process if the person still does not respond, they will likely face termination.
We will give grace and accept grace
An important element in a championship team is to not allow victory to make us lazy or defeat to discourage us. It is easy to relax after a big victory and to think negatively when we lose. The same is true in relationships. Our relationships will have victories and defeats. We need to keep two things in mind. First, when a person hurts us, it is rarely by intention. Most of the time people have good will towards one another. Therefore, we need to give each other grace when hurts are accrued. Second, no one is harder on you than you. When someone gives you grace and forgives you for hurting them, you need to accept it and move on.
We will not dwell on our mistakes, only the process of continual individual improvement.
Our standards have helped us time and time again in conflict situations. Confrontation is hard and uncomfortable. It is much easier to pretend you’re not hurt. When people pretend they aren’t hurt, bitterness grows. Bitterness is a form of distrust which will show up in every area of your culture. Be sure to follow your standards for conflict and you will have an authentic, connected, and loyal team.
- Customer Service (Internal and External)
The way you treat your team members is an essential part of a great culture. Too much emphasis has been put on external customer service, and thus, many companies lack integrity and authenticity. If a company treats their employees poorly and treats their customers well, their employee turnover is high. Statistics show that people buy from those they know, like, and trust. It’s difficult to maintain high sales rates with high turnover because customers are will lose connection and trust with your company if the people they are buying from are leaving at an exponential rate.
My dad has a wise saying, “If you take care of people, money takes care of itself.” I will take it a step further. If you take care of your team members, your team members will take care of your customers, and money will take care of itself. It is important to have high standards for how you treat each other. You can also set high standards for how you treat your customers, but in great cultures, where people are valued and appreciated, great customer service is a natural byproduct.
Questions for internal and external customer service
NOTE: Using the same questions, break your discussion into two parts: Internal and External. Adapt the questions for each and set standards for both.
- Use one title to describe how you want your customers treated (i.e. Court Jester, King, President, Used Car Salesman, etc.)
- What common phrases can we use when talking to our customers that will remind us of this title? (i.e. “We are here to serve you,” “It’s my pleasure,” “Yes sir, no ma’am,” “You’re very welcome,” etc.)
- How should we answer our phone?
- How do we greet our customers?
- How do we say goodbye?
- What do you want our customers to say about us when we’re not around?
- How can we ensure they say this?
- How should we respond when a customer is having a “bad day?”
- How can we stay in a state of appreciation for our customers?
- What are daily habits that will help us maintain a great environment?
MLN’s standards for internal and external customer service is below.
How we treat each other
We will have high standards for how we treat each other and the decisions we make. Remember, your character affects your team when you’re alone. What you put in your mind and body will affect other members of your team. What you watch, read, and hear will affect other individuals on your team. These things will affect how you see the world, how you speak, and what you believe. Therefore, stand watch at the door of your mind.
What you eat will affect your mood. If you eat a lot of sugar and fried foods, you will feel lethargic and potentially unmotivated. If you don’t exercise you won’t maximize the power of your physiology. Conversely, if you eat foods full of alkalinity and nutrients you will have more energy and mental clarity. If you exercise regularly you will feel good about yourself and it will affect your mood (and performance) in a positive way.
Our team is committed to consistently doing good things that benefit each other. We are committed to being a cut above.
Breakdown of how we treat each other
We will smile—a lot. When we walk into our meetings, both internal and external, we will have smiles on our faces. Our faces are the company’s best billboard. Smiling makes others want to smile, and it produces greater flow of serotonin into our central nervous system.
We will also listen with our ears and eyes.
We will stand up straight. By standing up straight you will exude confidence in yourself and others. Standing up straight also helps align your central nervous system, which is responsible for blood cell regeneration.
Our arms and hands
We will use our arms to “lift others up” and our hands “to help.” We want our handshakes to be firm but gentle, our hugs to be appropriate, and our high-fives to be sincere.
Our legs and feet
We will run from negative character and towards positive character. We will take care of our feet (rested) for the long journey of helping people succeed.
Our work ethic
We will do more than we get paid for to make an investment in our future. Most importantly, we will work harder on ourselves than we do on our jobs. If we invest in our jobs, we will make a living. If we invest in ourselves, we will make a fortune!
How we work on ourselves daily:
Before working on anything related to Mainstream Leadership Network we will:
- Read or listen to something spiritual, inspiring, or enlightening
- We will get into a state of thankfulness (we should think of 5 things we’re thankful for before moving forward)
- We will make a plan to encourage 5 people during the day either through email, text, phone call, or face-to-face.
- We will make plans to complete the 3 most important activities of our day.
- We will think of one creative idea.
After you have completed these 5 activities you should begin your day. You may not get them all done every day. However, you should aim for this target daily.
As we developed our standards, we concluded that if each team member focused on being the best version of ourselves through these basic disciplines, it would spill over into treating each other well. So far, we’ve been right. Our standards aren’t perfect, but they are perfect for us. Using the questions and template, set your standards.
Communication is the transferring of information from one entity to another. Communication failures are the number one reason for breakdowns in production and efficiency. In a great culture, there is greater communication because there is greater trust. Communication has much more to do with connection than eloquence. When people are connected in heart, mind, and purpose they listen to each other intently and are careful to process information properly. In poor cultures, communication is filtered with haste. Haste is a communication killer because people in haste are in a state of fear, doubt, and worry, which keeps people from connecting to others. In turn, this makes them less likely to listen intently not properly process information.
Great cultures also have systems for protecting their interpersonal communication because they appreciate the difficulties of communication and are vigilant to protect themselves from breakdowns. They also know that the terminology, buzzwords, and non-verbals they use will leave customers and those in other departments confused. Standards for communication cannot be taken lightly and must be improved upon often.
Here are some questions to set standards for communication
- What information is most vital in our communication? (i.e. Task Lists, Customer Information, Product Knowledge, Values, Mission, etc.)
- What are organizational buzzwords we need to ensure our customers know?
- How often do you have team meetings just to communicate?
- What information needs passed on consistently?
- Who are the organization main sources of information? (i.e. President, HR Direction, HR Manual, etc.)
- Where can everyone go to get the information they need?
- How often should they tap into this resource?
- On a scale of 1-5 (5 being the highest), how has the quality of communication been up to this point?
- How can we improve our communication immediately?
- What communication systems do we need to put in place to solve communication challenges?
- When will we do this?
- Who is doing this?
The better people know each other, the better they communicate. One practice I encourage is setting up time once per week for focused interaction. Have your team pair up with teammates they don’t normally interact with. Have them ask each other questions for 7 minutes. After the first person asks questions and listens for 7 minutes, switch. Then have the other person ask questions for 7 minutes. You will be amazed at how much you will get to know about a person if you just ask questions and listen. By doing this you will cultivate a relational environment where people are relaxed. It is a scientific fact that relaxed muscles react better. Practicing communication is a way to proactively hold each other accountable. Teams should practice like they play. If you expect to win with communication, you must practice like a winner.
Another accountability method is to address a communication breakdown as quickly as possible. Don’t wait until the next day, week, or month to talk about your blunder. Refrain from emotion and talk about what went wrong in your communication system. Did you miss a step? Did something get lost in translation? Was the message confusing? Address the issue, plan to correct it, and ensure it is fixed. And make sure you fix it. I’ve been in far too many meetings where people dissect miscommunication, but make no plans to fix it or hold the responsible parties accountable. So instead of just losing time in miscommunication, they lose double the time by dissecting the communication and not fixing it. They eventually make the same mistake later and repeat the cycle.
- Goals and Deadlines
Statistics show that those who set regular goals are 50% more productive than those who don’t. Goals and deadlines are a lifeblood to a healthy culture. They tell you how close you are to reaching your vision. But beware. Brian Tracy says, “There are no unrealistic goals, just unrealistic deadlines.” There’s a fine line between an ultra-conservative deadline and an unrealistic deadline. You must find a balance between the two. Each team member should work with another teammate to set goals and deadlines in this order.
- Annual – These are the Big Hairy Audacious Goals (BHAG’s) you have for the year. Don’t worry about being unrealistic, just let the ideas fly. Then after you’ve written all your goals down, determine what is realistic. Then, edit your goals to fit a 12-month period.
- Quarterly – These are the actions you need to complete in a 3-month period to reach your 12-month goal. This is where you should adjust your goals to push you harder or bring you back to reality.
- Monthly – These are the actions you must complete to reach your goals for the quarter.
- Weekly – These are the actions you need to complete to reach your monthly goals.
- Daily – These are the actions to need to complete to reach your weekly goals.
Setting goals and deadlines creates accountability. No one can hide from their own goals and deadlines, especially when they helped create them. It is one of the simplest ways to evaluate how your team is producing. Make sure the goals and deadlines are posted in a place where they are viewed every day. By doing so, the goals and deadlines become a form of accountability for each person.
Andy Stanley says, “It is direction, not intention, that leads to destination.” When a person sets their own goals, they are 4 times more likely to achieve them. That doesn’t mean that a leader shouldn’t delegate or direct people’s goals. It means if you want them achieved, they need to be a part of the process. Most businesses neglect this, because it requires discipline. The ancient teacher said, “No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of good living and peace for all who are trained by it.” Do not neglect this discipline and you’ll have no regrets.
If you would like help setting standards for your business, please reach out to MLN via the membership site and we will be happy to assist you.
FINAL WORD ON STEP 4
Building a sustainable wall of values, mission, and standards will give you the security you need to expand, cultivate, and rest. Building your wall together will bond your team through common goals and shared ideas. Don’t look at this step as a quick fix. Take your time building the walls of your culture. Try things and see how they work. Don’t become discouraged if things don’t work perfectly the first time around. You will eventually find what works for you.
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