LEAD WITH CULTURE
Here are five ways that will help you lead your teams to ultimately embody a great culture.
1. Be Aware of Your Present Culture
You’re reading this article because you’re aware of the need for a great culture. You’re mindful of the fact that culture matters. Being aware of your culture and its impact on your organization is incredibly important. It’s the first step.
2. Define Your Culture
I covered this topic extensively in The Truth About Culture Revealed. I encouraged you to think of culture in terms of what you value as an organization and seek to define it.
- Define, What is culture?
- Define the culture you want to create.
- Define what are the values you already have as an organization.
- Define what additional values, behaviors, or beliefs you would like to be part of your culture.
- Define the aspirational values that you would like to be true of your culture.
Spend time here and define it. If your present culture isn’t great, look for ways to start casting a vision for the culture you want to create. If you have a great culture, be grateful for that gift, and define how you’re going to help reinforce and continue to grow a great culture.
Define the values that will be unique to your team and your organization because every organization, every team, every culture is unique. You want to make sure you’re not mimicking, but you’re creating the culture that is unique to who you are.
3. Model Your Culture
Everything rises and falls on leadership. You, as the leader, must model your culture. Determine what will define you. Demonstrate the culture you want your team to reflect. Then, seek to live out those goals and values. Make sure your life and your leadership are reflecting the culture that you desire to create going back to what I often say, lead yourself well, to lead others better.
If you have great people in your life, who can speak the truth with some candor, show them your values. Ask them how well you model and live out your values. That’s going to be an asset as you seek to lead your team through these values and live out your culture.
4. Hire with Culture in Mind
Hiring for culture is extremely important. I see many churches and nonprofits skim over this part because they don’t have the resources for a full HR staff. The hiring process in small organizations, small churches, or startup organizations often happens haphazardly– it’s just the nature of the beast. You, however, will have a leg up if you pay attention to culture early in the hiring process.
Here’s why you should hire for culture.
- Every person that you add to your team impacts your culture. Remember your culture is unique because every person in that culture is unique. There is no other group of people who are exactly like your team, so everyone is impacting culture positively or negatively.
- Every person isn’t just your hires. It’s also the people who leave your organization. Say a great staff person leaves the organization; you don’t want a good part of your culture to go out the door with them. If you hire well, you can create a great culture that great people want to be a part of and remain regardless of who comes and goes. Culture is always either building or eroding every day.
Here’s how you can integrate culture into your hiring process and performance reviews.
- Be intentional about hiring people who are going to contribute to your culture positively. Integrate culture throughout your hiring process. Make sure that you have interview questions that lead to an understanding of whether that candidate is going to embody those values and the culture of your organization.
- Find ways to include culture in your job descriptions. Make sure that part of a job description is living out culture and reflecting those organizational values. Then, make it part of your staff’s performance reviews and have conversations about how well they’re living out culture and values.
Help every person who joins your team understand your culture and contribute to it. Culture should become part of your organization’s rhythm with regular conversations and expectations for your team.
5. Devote Time, Energy, and Resources to Culture Keeping
This is a tough one because you have plenty to do. The last thing you need is another to-do list. However, because culture is so critical, you need to make sure time and resources are devoted to helping maintain the culture you’ve created.
You want to talk about it often. Look for ways to reinforce the cultural values all the time. At the weekly staff meetings, highlight when another staff person has lived out culture. Celebrate stories of staff who demonstrate your values. Recognize and honor one another. It’s a great way to reinforce your organization’s culture consistently. Look for opportunities to create events, or maybe staff trips, where you can focus on culture.
When I was on staff at Cross Point Church, we enjoyed an annual staff trip. This was important to our culture to get away for a night or two. We would spend time reconnecting, talking about vision, talking about values, and reinforcing the culture that we wanted to maintain as a team.
One particular year, the budget was tight. We considered cutting the staff trip. We weren’t sure how we could justify the expense. A lot of you have the same tension, how do you do the fun stuff on a lean budget? I get that. This is where you’ve got to be super creative.
In that particular year, we got a few people together because we knew canceling the annual event wouldn’t be healthy for our culture. It was a key opportunity for our staff to connect. We brainstormed and came up with, “Cross Point Goes to Camp.”
We went to a local state park, and we rented nasty little state park cabins. We packed sleeping bags and typical camping food to cook around the campfire. Every team had a turn at kitchen duty to prep food and clean. We enjoyed field games, and we themed out the whole camping experience. It was one of my favorite staff trips–affordable, fun, and different. It ended up creating stories that lingered on.
Get clever and creative about events and doing things that reinforce culture for your team. Brainstorm ideas that would work for your organization and do it within your budget and within your means.
IS YOUR CULTURE BEING CAUGHT OR TAUGHT?
Consider when you need to move from the culture being caught to the culture being taught. Here’s the difference.
When your team is small, and you’re together a lot, the culture that you want to create is pretty much caught. People know your culture because they’re in it all the time.
As your organization gets larger, it’s no longer possible for everyone on staff to catch the culture, spirit, and values. You must look for ways to start teaching the culture until it’s embedded in every staff person’s DNA and every staff person’s way of behaving.
One of the things I did at Cross Point was to start a class called Culture Shock. New employees had to go through this class. Our senior leadership team taught the classes. It was an investment as senior leaders because we believed it was so critical for every staff person to hear our story–the prequel of what made the organization.
This six-month two-hour monthly commitment over lunch provided reading and an opportunity to learn about our values. They heard about our church history. We defined why values were essential to who we were and how everyone could best live them out.
Look for ways to reinforce and to devote time, energy, and resources to your culture. Create rhythms, consistent communication, classes, and events for your organization.
WHAT IF YOU’RE NOT IN THE SENIOR LEADERSHIP SEAT?
What if you care deeply about culture, and you want to help create a great culture, but you’re not the senior leader? I love love that you have a concern and a passion for culture because we need every person at every level of an organization to care about culture. How do you do that? How do you lead up with culture? It’s a valid and important question.
First, start with your circle of influence. Who’s on your team? It may be a small volunteer team, a staff team, a peer group, or one or two people that work with you. Start working with that team and consider what do you want to be known for as a team? What’s important to the team? How are customers or congregants engaging with you as a team? What are the values that are important to who you are?
Influence the nucleus of that core team. How do you want to behave and act towards one another and other co-workers? Create your code as a team—a code you’re going to adopt. Make sure that’s in line with the overarching values of the organization.
Make sure you’re not in direct contradiction to anything significant to the organization. Seek to clearly define those things that are important to you, as a team, and create your code. Incorporate the good things about your organizational culture. Then, add to that.
My caution to you would be, don’t get arrogant or prideful that you have the best team. Stay humble, and use this to influence, lead up, and model culture. I would also seek out your leaders. Ask them questions about culture. Ask them what they value. Ask them what’s important to them. Approach it in a spirit of helpfulness, not with an agenda to fix it. You could say, “Here are some things that I see we do well, or values that we hold. How can I help continue to reinforce those things?” If you approach them as someone who wants to help, nine times out of ten, they’re going to welcome your help.
Remember, your leader is human; they’re probably doing the best that they can do. And if you come with a spirit of helpfulness, I believe that’s going to go a long way and open the lines of communication where they may seek your ideas, recommendations, advice, etc. It’s a beautiful way to lead up and help impact the culture.
Secondly, revisit the five things I’ve shared in this article.
- Be Aware of Your Present Culture
- Define Your Culture
- Model Your Culture
- Hire with Culture in Mind
- Devote Time, Energy and Resources to Culture Keeping
I believe you can make an extraordinary difference in your organization by making the health of your culture a priority. I’d love to hear what you plan to implement, questions, or maybe a few of your success stories. Please share them in the comment section below.
Jenni Catron and The 4Sight Group
** Culture Matters | Free Workbook **
Most leaders agree that a healthy culture is essential in any organization. Everything we do as leaders is either building or eroding culture.
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Jenni Catron is a writer, speaker, and leadership coach who consults churches and non-profits to help them lead from their extraordinary best. She speaks at conferences and churches nationwide, seeking to help others develop their leadership gifts and lead confidently. As Founder and CEO of The 4Sight Group, she consults with individuals and teams on leadership and organizational health.
Jenni is the author of several books, including Clout: Discover and Unleash Your God-Given Influence and The 4 Dimensions of Extraordinary Leadership.