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Crucial Characteristics of Strong Cultures

February 17, 2021 in

Author: Angie Fifer, Ph.D., CMPC
Editor: Rachel Bryars

“Culture is simply a shared way of doing something with a passion.”
– Brian Chesky, Co-Founder, CEO, Airbnb

Culture Is a Buzz Word

“Culture” has become a big buzz word in organizations. In order to maximize productivity and results, culture must come first, right? But what actually is culture? (Read my colleague Dr. Donnie Horner’s recent article for a deep-dive into that question). And while we are asking questions here, what constitutes winning? Winning is a little easier to define on the athletic field where the score determines who wins and loses. But even there, a team who plays their absolute best against a far superior team could also count that performance as a win. Organizationally, does winning mean exceeding our performance goals? Performing better than the year before? And further, how do we win while also paying attention to culture?

Plenty of examples exist of quality organizational cultures that also perform at a high level:

— Southwest Airlines goes the extra mile to provide customer service, affordable flight options, and still turns excellent profits.
— Apple makes high end computers, phones, tablets, and music players with the customer experience in mind.
— Coach Gregg Popovich of the San Antonio Spurs focuses on building relationships with his players and loving them before demanding a strong work ethic and high-level performance.

While each of these examples are unique, there are elements of a winning culture that can be found across all.

3 Characteristics of Groups with Strong Cultures

In his book, Culture Code, Daniel Coyle identifies three overarching characteristics of groups with a strong culture.

  1. Perhaps surprisingly, the first characteristic is that strong organizations have a culture of psychological safety. Employees across the organization feel safe to express their opinions, challenge the status quo, and do not fear repercussions.
  2. Within this psychologically safe space, employees can also be vulnerable to offer new, out of the box ideas, and also share their story and connect as humans.
  3. Finally, great culture organizations have a crystal-clear purpose that provides the roadmap for where they want to go and how they will get there.

“Vulnerability doesn’t come after trust – it precedes it. Leaping into the unknown, when done alongside others, causes the solid ground of trust to materialize beneath our feet.”
– Daniel Coyle

6 Keys to Create a Strong Culture

Based on the results of a recent Gallup poll in the Harvard Business Review, there are six elements of a strong organizational culture that should be deliberately emphasized and worked at to increase productivity and drive integration and alignment:

  1. Fulfilling work: When we have mastery, autonomy, and purpose, employees at all levels are more intrinsically motivated to do their work well.
  2. Resilient and adaptable leadership: Leaders must have a clear purpose and vision for the organization. They must be emotionally intelligent, have the ability to self-regulate, and be able to adapt to change.
  3. Culture and strategy alignment: The culture supports the strategic vision and every member of the team is aligned with the strategic priorities.
  4. Productive work environment: The organization has created a psychologically safe environment that includes frequent feedback, is flexible, and inclusive.
  5. Trust in leadership: Integrity, transparency, and a commitment to people is present from the top down.
  6. High performance mindset: People have a growth mindset that is gritty and optimistic, are able to self-regulate, and are willing to receive and give feedback.

Culture will impact your business outcomes. But how do you know if your culture is strong or weak? What do you do if your culture needs to change (Hint: many change efforts fail without a carefully planned approach. Read more on that here.) Those questions are best answered through careful consultation with trusted advisors who can objectively assess the organization.

Need Help?

HigherEchelon provides a full range of diagnostic assessments and consulting services to help you determine the state of your culture. We can help you improve your culture, strengthen your leadership, and train your team in the mental and emotional skills that lead to high performance (and healthy and happy team members). Our highly certified change management experts can guide your organization through cultural transformations that last.

Learn more about HigherEchelon’s change management services and how we guide organizations through successful change initiatives.

We’d love to discuss your needs. Call us at 866-488-9228, email us at Solutions@higherechelon.com, or fill out this form for a complimentary consultation.

Dr. Angie Fifer is a certified mental performance consultant who provides high performance and executive coaching for government and private sector organizations. As a former Performance Psychology trainer at the United States Military Academy at West Point, Dr. Fifer taught teams and individuals in both athletic and military performance domains. She earned a B.S. in both Kinesiology and Psychology from Penn State University, her M.A. in Sport and Exercise Psychology from California State University at Fullerton, and a Ph.D. in Sport and Exercise Psychology from Michigan State University.