AJO Blog

Primary tabs

How to Create a Culture of Excellence - Learn to Color Inside the Lines


September 6th, 2018

- Updated on

September 11, 2018 - 11:19pm
Coloring was one of my favorite activities as a child. It was one of those things I frequently did with my mother. I loved those books with the large pictures of characters like Scooby-doo, Josie and the Pussycats, and HR Puffin Stuff. Wait, did I reference HR Puffin Stuff? I think I just aged myself!
As soon as I got my hands on a coloring book, I would open it, select some crayons, and start coloring. There was no plan to my approach. My goals were simple; get color on the page and have fun. My mother, on the other hand, would start by tracing over all the lines of her picture with a single crayon. She would then color inside those lines. I was always impressed by how neat and orderly her final product was; especially in comparison to mine. Those bold lines made the colors pop.
Child and coloring books
When it comes to building a culture of excellence, your approach should more closely resemble my mother’s methodology. You need lines, boundaries, and clearly stated expectations. Doing so requires a planned approach. You must color inside the lines.

Throwing Caution to the Wind

The importance of culture can’t be overstated. After leading the people-side of multiple mergers and organizational turnarounds, I concluded that culture is the soil in which everything in your organization lives or dies. I also learned that culture develops with or without our permission. We can either be deliberate and intentional in creating the culture we desire (my mother’s approach to coloring), or we can throw caution to the wind and hope for the best.

Unfortunately, when we throw caution to the wind, at best we end up with a culture that does not support our organization’s performance goals, and at worse, we end up with chaos. A chaos created by a disconnect between our organization’s stated values and the way in which we operate.

Allow me to illustrate.
A couple of years ago, I was contacted by a CEO whose organizational values included words like trust, transparency, and open communication. She reached out to me to request coaching and training for her managers. She believed the team lacked strategic thinking. Their decisions were described as myopic; failing to take into consideration the bigger picture. I asked if she had any sense as to the root cause and she stated it could be competency or lack of experience.  
As a firm believer in diagnosis before intervention, I started by interviewing the managers to gather data that would help in designing the approach to coaching and training. Through the course of the interviews, three themes emerged and they appeared to point to an issue that was neither competency nor experience related. 
Themes and cause in corporate culture infographic
By now, I am sure you have zeroed in on the true root cause of the issue. Sure, they may be lacking in competency and/or experience, but it was impossible to assess because the culture did not support strategic thinking at their level. To think strategically, these leaders needed three things to which they did not have access.  
  1. Knowledge of the vision/direction (the thing about which they were to think strategically)
  2. A continuous flow of information
  3. Time to think and plan
Additionally, there was a disconnect between the organization’s stated values (trust, transparency, open communication) and the organization’s behavior (hoarding information, etc.). Unfortunately, investing in coaching and training to improve this group’s strategic thinking skills would have been a waste of time and money. These seeds would have never taken root because the issue was in the soil. The issue was one of culture. Until they changed the culture, they would never be able to change the outcomes they were getting.

Changing the Organizational Culture

In my work as The Culture Architect, I have the privilege of working with organizations whose leaders desire a culture of excellence, but they are often unsure where to start. Frequently they use my book, “Culture in 4D” as it is a blueprint for bridging the gap between the desire for a culture of engagement, ownership, and bottom-line performance and execution of the same. If you have found yourself in this same place, here are a few steps to get you started.

Select the Picture

Like any great work of art or widely admired edifice, the first step in creating a culture of excellence is visualizing what a culture of excellence would look like. Think of it as applying Steven Covey’s Habit 2, Begin with the End in Mind (from The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People), to the culture building process. How will your team know a culture of excellence when they see it?
Your goal is to be deliberate and intentional in selecting the picture that bests represents your team’s desired culture. It is not a top-down process, but rather one in which the whole team participates. Here is a sample question to get the discussion started.
What three words or phrases best describe the kind of culture you need to be successful? 
Once everyone has had an opportunity to share their answers, work together as a team to agree on 3-5 words and/or phrases (also known as team values) to describe your team’s desired culture.  

Trace the Lines

Once the picture has been selected, the next step is “tracing the lines” or agreeing on a set of behaviors that support the team values. Do not underestimate the importance of this part of the process. It is not enough to say, “Respect.” You must also identify and agree on behaviors that demonstrate “Respect.”
This deep dive on respect can be accomplished by having each member of the team fill in the following blanks:
I feel respected when members of my team ________________, _________________, and ______________.
Use these answers to identify 3-5 on which the team can agree. In the example above, your team would not only agree that respect is important, but they would also reach agreement on how to best demonstrate respect.

Color Inside the Lines

Coloring inside the lines involves taking steps to make the culture change stick. It is moving from vision to execution. To do so, the following things must happen:
  1. Everyone agrees to take ownership of the culture by operating in accordance with the values and agreed upon behaviors. 
  2. Everyone agrees to address anyone who fails to operate in accordance with the agreed upon behaviors.
  3. Everyone agrees to engage in activities that reinforce the importance of the values. As an example, at the start of your team meeting share a quote, poem, or an excerpt from a book or article that is related to one of your values.    
create a culture of excellence by coloring between the lines
I have fond memories of sitting at the table coloring with my mother and being amazed at the masterpieces she created while coloring inside the lines. As a bit of a rebel by nature, I naturally resist structure in favor of “flying by the seat of my pants.” Ultimately, experience has taught me that when it comes to a culture of excellence, masterpieces can be created when we are deliberate and intentional in our attempts to color inside the lines.   

Culture architect - Tony MooreTony Moore is a Culture Architect, Keynote Speaker, Author, and recovering Human Resource Executive. Over the course of his 25 years in the C-suite, he had the privilege of leading the people-side of multiple mergers and large-scale organizational turnarounds. Through this experience, Tony came to recognize culture as the soil in which everything in the organization lives or dies. His firm, Tony Moore Speaks, works with leaders who want to improve bottom-line performance by creating a culture of engagement and ownership. Tony was interviewed on a recent episode of HR Studio Podcast. You can catch that episode here: Creating Organizational Cultures For Superior Results


Related Posts