Three Ways To Distinguish A Killer Culture

Workplace culture is everything. It’s how work gets accomplished (or avoided); it encompasses the systems, processes and decision-making space to work effectively and efficiently; and incorporates the values, beliefs and behaviors exemplified (or not) by leaders–and by “leaders” I am referring to yesterday’s new hire up through the CEO.

Without the right workplace culture, you’re misaligned. There’s emptiness inside your heart; a hollow feeling of belonging because it isn’t getting the attention it needs. Without the right culture your craving to optimize your potential is thwarted and you become less of who you want to be.

After spending 13 years in the SEAL Teams, there was a lot I learned about organizational culture – good and bad – that is transferable no matter what industry you work in. The principles for success are the same no matter what job or market to which you dedicate yourself. The only difference is the tools you use. Here’s what I mean.

There’s a simple formula to ensure your culture is “right:” have the right people; make sure those people have the right tools; ensure those people keep having the right tools. It’s that simple. Below is a more thorough explanation of these three simple ways you can ensure you build a killer culture:

Hire for character. Values, personality, habits. Nobody wants to work with a social hand grenade – those toxic personalities that make you question why anybody would ever choose to be friends with that person since they do everything unimaginable to repel a conversation rather than build one.

When you hire for character, start by taking a lesson from Ernest Shackleton. If you don’t know who this unsung leader is, Shackleton wanted to be the first person to trek across Antarctica (why anybody would want to do this is beyond me). He knew that the upcoming voyage would entail hardship to say the least, so he needed a certain kind of person. To ensure he didn’t waste any time in the hiring process, his “pitch” for attracting talent looked like this:

Men Wanted: for hazardous journey, small wages, bitter cold, long months of complete darkness, constand danger, safe return doubtful, honor and recognition in case of success.

While the epic display of leadership by Ernest Shackleton was certainly a deciding factor in his crew’s survival, but the crew itself—and specifically, the types of people they were—was the other deciding factor. The lesson: Brand the right message that attracts the right people.

Train For Competence

Once the seeds of character are planted (and onboard), it’s time to define what success looks like and build the competencies to achieve it. Modeling, excel templates, and the “art” of delivering feedback can all be learned; honesty, integrity, and the willingness to have difficult conversations for sake of bettering the company aren’t as easy.

I’m going to go way outside my Navy lineage and cite Delta Force (yes, the secret squirrel Delta Force led by Chuck Norris–that’s a joke) as the shining example here. Once candidates pass the physical selection process, they begin training on the technical aspects of commando-ism. In other words, Delta ensures that it has the right character and the right fit before it invests time and money into training their soldiers to be all they can be. The result? The second most effective counterterrorism unit known to man (please forgive my Navy bias).

Coach For Performance

Everybody needs a little realignment once in a while. When you have a competent, motivated person who is both able and willing to execute daily tasks (and I mean that not in the commando sense), the only limiting factor is the information he or she receives to stay on track. In other words, as long as meeting updates, agendas, objectives, roles, and responsibilities are clear, opportunity for growth abounds.

Of course, this is life, and I’m well aware that sometimes “the memo” fails to get passed. When this happens it causes frustration, animosity, even jealousy between those who received the memo and those who didn’t.

To mitigate the potential of an emotional time-bomb erupting, use coaching to increase people’s self-awareness. After all, can you think of anybody who couldn’t benefit from learning more about how their behaviors impact others? Didn’t think so.

The goal of coaching for performance is to align individual behaviors with organizational goals. If there’s a discrepancy, the question becomes, “why?”

Culture is everything. A strong workplace culture will attain, retain, and train its people to the extent that it believes in the power of human capital. How will you grow?

Image: Big Stock Images