How to Determine If You Have a Culture in Crisis

Has your organization clearly defined its Key Results, the three or four highest priority outcomes you need to deliver by the end of the year? And are you on track to achieve those Key Results?

A simple failure to achieve those results could mean any number of things: perhaps your stated goals are too ambitious, or maybe your team doesn’t have the resources it needs to fulfill them. Often, however, this failure results from a lack of clarity around these goals. Individual teams and employees start taking their own measures to find solutions, undermining one another’s efforts and ultimately detracting from the company’s progress.

Any company that hasn’t clearly identified and communicated its Key Results may have a culture in crisis. If you’re uncertain how to begin changing company culture, here are four things your company should focus on in order to solidify your cultural shift strategy and reach your desired results

1. Defining Key Results to Boost Employee Productivity

In our Workplace Accountability Study, we surveyed over 40,000 respondents in multiple industries and discovered that many felt that priorities in their workplace shifted frequently, creating confusion and making it difficult to commit to and execute on tasks that achieve business results. Multitasking can reduce productivity by up to 40% — when an entire organization is focused on too many things at once, it’s no surprise that productivity goes down and results lag.

Set your team up for success by identifying the Key Results that translate most directly to success for your entire organization. These results should be defined by “the three Ms”: meaningful, memorable, and measurable. If a Key Result doesn’t hold immediate importance for your employees, is too complex, or is nebulous and unconcrete, it won’t help you to achieve organizational success.

Some might contest that defining Key Results is not directly related to work culture; yet the responsibility for both managing workplace culture and keeping the organization focused on its topline objectives falls on the leadership team. If Key Results are chronically ill-defined or unclear, you either need to work on your communication or on your culture.

2. Shifting from the Blame Game to Positive Accountability

Of the managers who participated in our survey, 72% indicated that they attempt to hold others accountable, but that their efforts don’t often yield favorable results; 50% were unsure how to effectively hold others accountable; and 57% communicated that they met too much resistance to do so effectively.

Why do leaders’ efforts to hold others accountable often yield less than favorable results? Both leaders and those they lead tend to view accountability in negative terms, as something that happens only when things go wrong — not as something that one does proactively to ensure delivery of desired results. Negative accountability, in turn, gives way to the tendency to blame others when things go wrong.

This is where a “not my job” mentality causes the most damage. Instead of taking ownership, employees play the blame game, and their conversations become focused on circumstances that are beyond their control. When these beliefs and behaviors become widespread, they can take on a life of their own and become entrenched as part of the organization’s culture, hindering performance for years to come.

This negative view of accountability stems from a misunderstanding of what it means to be accountable. The Oz Principle defines accountability as “a personal choice to rise above one’s circumstances and demonstrate the ownership necessary to achieve desired results: to See It, Own It, Solve It, Do It.®” As leaders, how do we effectively implement this seemingly simple principle?

First, your responsibility as a leader is to model Above The Line behavior for your employees — that is, behavior that demonstrates your desire to search for solutions rather than blame others. A leader must serve as an example for others if team members are to have a strong idea of what individual accountability looks like in practice.

Next, leaders should coach positive accountability, asking those they lead to consider the costs of time spent Below The Line, focused on things done wrong by others or things already in the past — in other words, on factors you can’t control. Then ask them to consider the benefits of spending more time Above The Line, focused on things they can control. Continually coach your employees to think about this each time they face a problem, then put them to the task of “Do It”: what solutions can we try now that the problem has been identified?

Leaders who successfully engage their teams to achieve Key Results nurture a positive attitude in the workplace around organizational accountability. Those who can shift the perception of accountability from something that is dished out after things go wrong to something that’s focused on future outcomes tend to find more success at preventing these problems from occurring in the first place.

3. Shaping Experiences to Foster Beliefs

Beliefs define how people think and feel, and therefore determine their actions. In a business setting, employees’ beliefs often hold more sway than an organizational mission statement.

In an effort to control beliefs, managers might resort to mandates, new directives, command and control that in turn can create an environment of fear. This approach might heighten accountability for results in the short-term, but never works in the long-term. You have to go deeper to identify and then reshape the beliefs of your employees that are driving how they act.

The question is, do your employers hold any beliefs that are working against the organization’s ability to deliver its Key Results? For example, your employees might hold the mistaken belief that accountability is about blaming others when things go wrong. In that environment, you should aim to shift that belief to one of collective ownership for mistakes. Before behaviors can really begin to change in your workplace, the beliefs that motivate them must be proactively shaped by effective leadership.

4. Offering Focused Feedback Around Key Results

To create a lasting shift in results, you must institute a culture of feedback. Specifically, leaders and their direct reports should exchange feedback around results (“Are we making progress?”), accountability (“Am I above the line?”), and the beliefs you want people to hold (“Are our collective actions and experiences shaping beliefs that support our Key Results?”).

Feedback in the workplace also helps to create a collaborative atmosphere. In fact, you should be exchanging feedback around how collaborative you’re being! These feedback sessions ought to focus on how silos are being disrupted and broken down to create better channels of communication between teams and departments — and if they’re not, how to implement a plan to make this happen.

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