Lead an aligned workplace culture.

How as a leader, might you cultivate a culture that is the foundation for a vibrant business? To help answer this, let’s revisit the four-part culture-cultivating practice I shared last week, now with examples and some instructions. Use this practice to weave culture into strategy and leadership.

A four-part culture-cultivating practice:

  1. Culture-cultivation in strategic planning

”Having a clear strategy earns you the right to talk about culture. Culture is what guarantees continuing strategic shifts, alignment to the world around you, and being open.” ~ James Gorman

That’s from James Gorman, chair and CEO of Morgan-Stanley, in an interview on McKinsey’s Inside the Strategy Room podcast. Few, if any, would disagree that Gorman is a brilliant strategist. Under his watch, Morgan-Stanley pivoted from almost junk (bond) status to in 2021 ranking near the top of global players in investment banking and trading performance.

Gorman not only cultivates culture, it is part of his strategy to nurture a cooperative and cohesive culture, where people do the right thing.

  1. Communicate strategy and values, for alignment

Gorman’s challenge was, “How do we take a group of people who have been successful for so long and tell them that we have to fundamentally change?”

Gorman clearly articulated what needed to be done, what had been done, what was left to do, and where the organization was headed.

What no CEO can (or should) know are the role-by-role actions that, when well-orchestrated, will best move the entire organization forward. The CEO also will not (and should not) know how to measure progress in a way that is meaningful to individual roles.

What the CEO will track are measures of many activities by many people, together. There is a gap in “seeing” progress between what individuals experience and what senior leaders looking at reported outcomes see. This is why I recommend having a means, preferably a repeatable system, to support communication throughout the organization, to ensure that what was intended to be communicated has clearly landed.

  1. Consistently assess culture alignment

When I mention measurement (#2) I don’t only mean measuring work outputs. While measuring what gets done is important, it is equally important to measure alignment between how people are being at work and the workplace culture vision, principles, and values. How people behave as they work together is extremely important and too often overlooked (a few related posts are here, here, and here).

Why is measuring culture so difficult to do consistently and meaningfully? A few reasons include that workplace culture assessment is typically a manual effort (not captured in a system); often only handled in-person and individually with one’s manager, which presumes the manager is an excellent communicator and feels safe to follow-through appropriately; the assessment has issues (leading questions, no action taken after, only given when things need to be “fixed,” etc.).

Workplace culture cultivation is in the realm of leadership, and not something to be managed.  We typically have systems only to measure that which is managed. This must change.

James Gorman favors a survey done at Morgan-Stanley that answers one question to help him assess culture: “At the end of the day, are our people going home and telling friends and family that they are proud to work at Morgan Stanley?” It’s a good start.

  1. Expect all leaders to hold 1-1 future-look conversations

Part #4 of your new practice—a leadership rhythm, per se—is to emphasize the importance of conversations about the future, held separate from instant (present) feedback and past reviews.

It may seem in #3 that I was saying to not hold 1-1s. That’s not the case. It’s just that holding 1-1s without having everyone in the organization first sharing the same vision about workplace culture, leads to less effective and possibly even harmful 1-1 conversations. And those conversations often are so mixed with attempts to fix things or review past performance, that an open and clear-headed two-way conversation about how an individual can shine is lost.

I’m going to leave you with one final thought, related to last week’s message about “tone at the top” and the importance of cultivating culture. Actually, my thought is expressed in a recent article from a prior Tesla-lover on how she feels about the brand now.

Your best next step

For your “Your 1 Best Next Step,” plan to follow a culture-cultivating practice, like the one described. What will that practice look like for you?

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