By Alan Weinstein, Vistage Chair | Executive Coach| Entrepreneur | Management Consultant | Author | College Professor | Presented by Vistage.
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This is the second of a two-part series on healthy cultures. See the first blog here. Patrick Lencioni, in his book The Advantage, makes a distinction between smart and healthy organizations. Smart organizations are characterized as strategic, focusing much of their energy on marketing, finance, and technology. He characterizes healthy organizations as having minimal politics, high morale, high productivity, and low turnover. Lencioni further asserts that the difference between successful and mediocre companies is not how smart they are but how healthy they are.
Applying Lencioni’s thinking to culture, I looked for attributes of healthy cultures in the Vistage companies that were interviewed over the past 12 months. Six common attributes were identified.
Creating Clarity. Buckingham and Coffman’s book, First Break All the Rules: What the World’s Greatest Managers Do Differently, describes extensive research by the Gallup organization on what makes supervisors successful. Gallup’s number-one finding was clarity of expectations. I found that healthy cultures worked hard at communicating a clear vision, mission, goals, and action plans. This was particularly true during the pandemic, when uncertainty ran high and workers were looking to their leaders for direction and support.
Believing in People. It is easy to talk about having faith, trust, and respect for employees, but creating a culture to put these ideals into action is challenging. Every company interviewed lived by core values that were reinforced by actions that supported these values, including the removal of obstacles that violated them. Yes, this sometimes led to people being asked to leave the organization.
Teamwork. There is an old saying that there is no “I” in teamwork. Healthy cultures work hard to emphasize “we” rather than “I.” Teams may have star players, but star players cannot carry a team. As an example, the 2004 men’s Olympic basketball team, made up of NBA all-stars, was favored to win a gold medal but lost three games and settled for a bronze medal. Four years later, the same players and coach, older and wiser, practiced playing as a team and won a gold medal. When the coach was asked about the difference, he responded, “teamwork.” It is not just talent but how talent is integrated into teams that drives success.
Creating Alignment. Organizational conflict has received a lot of attention in the management literature. It is the natural outcome of diverse roles and interests that different groups or departments pursue. In a healthy culture, leaders identify common goals that align all organizational players. This alignment leads to an engaged and productive workforce.
Cultivating a Winning Attitude. Vince Lombardi once wrote, “Confidence is contagious, and so is lack of confidence.” Our data support that a winning attitude is essential to a healthy culture. Knowing that you are participating on a team or in an organization that is successful will boost energy and ensure continued effort toward sustainable results. Our companies reinforced a winning attitude through sharing and celebrating success.
Commitment to Community. A surprise finding was the level of commitment that healthy culture organizations made to their communities. One company adopted Habitat for Humanity and encouraged workers to volunteer on company time. Another company created a training program for high school students living in a poor section of town, with a goal of teaching them about industrial machinery and other employable skills. Employees were the teachers.
In summary, healthy cultures promote clarity, a belief in people, teamwork, alignment of interests, a winning attitude, and a commitment to their communities. They are built on listening and addressing the needs of all organization stakeholders. In every company interviewed, there was a strong relationship between its healthy culture and organizational success as measured by employee engagement, high morale, high productivity, customer satisfaction, and bottom-line results. What is interesting is that each leader believed in and prioritized a healthy culture as his or her primary strategy.
Vistage is the world’s largest executive coaching organization for small and midsize businesses. For more than 60 years they have been helping CEOs, business owners and key executives solve their toughest challenges through a comprehensive approach to success. At the heart of their proven formula is confidential peer advisory groups and executive coaching sessions.
Disclaimer: The above commentary entails the views of the author and not necessarily the views of the Buffalo Niagara Partnership.
After receiving his PhD in Organizational Psychology Dr. Weinstein held professorships at Carnegie-Mellon, Oakland University, and Canisius College. At Canisius he chaired the Management & Marketing Department, founded the Center for Entrepreneurship, The Institute for Family Business, and Entrepreneurs on Campus. In 1992, Dr. Weinstein started the first Vistage group in Western New York and currently chairs a key group and an Emerging Leader group. He served on several boards of directors including Perry’s Ice Cream, Lasertron, Stride Tool and Ciminelli Development. Dr. Weinstein authored Executive Coaching and the Process of Change and co-authored Unleashing Human Energy through Culture Change with Donald Rust. He and Rust are currently writing a book on how small to mid-sized companies created healthy cultures that drove their business success.