Today, employees are looking for something more than just a good paying job with full benefits and a few weeks of PTO a year, and THE word on most people’s tongues when thinking about their workplace is Culture.

Why? It goes all the way back to our DNA. We are hard-wired for belonging. It’s a protection mechanism that kept our ancestors alive. By being part of a group, it increased their chances of survival, and also ensured that our race lived on to see another day.

But today; that’s transitioned from the need to be part of a group for survival’s sake; to the need to belong to know that they matter. It’s still innate to our biology, just in a different vein.

One of the most powerful things we can do as Leaders is to show our teams that they matter. That the work they do matters. That they are part of a purpose bigger than themselves.

We all want to belong to something. We all want to know that we matter.

This has become pivotal in the workplace, because this is where our society is looking for connection and belonging. Even 50 years ago, people mostly found this in church and other forms of community. As our society peels away from this traditional model; they are looking for other ways to fill that basic human need. Today, we spend more time communicating through technology than face to face. Our biology is screaming for real, authentic connection. This is not optional. THIS is why it’s so important that we, as Leaders, are being intentional about our culture.

So what are the top three mistakes that I see Leaders making in their workplace culture?

  1.     They don’t know what they want. In my experience, I’ve seen very few leaders who have strategically built out the culture that they want (and even more importantly, the type of culture that their ideal employee would want). When asked about their culture, most leaders use very warm and fuzzy words that look nice hanging on a wall, but they don’t know how to build a framework around it to turn it into something tangible. Some don’t believe that they have the power to change it. They look at the company culture as something that just exists and they have to work within or around it. I hear comments that sound like, “that’s just not how it works here,” or “it’s just the way it is”. If you are not changing it, you are choosing it. Whether you intend to or not; you are personally creating and/or supporting your culture. The problem is, most leaders do not recognize their power and responsibility to strategically outline the culture they desire, and carry out a plan to bring that culture to life. Culture is a living and breathing thing. It is not a fossil. It can be changed!
  2.     When they DO know what they want, they don’t communicate it. They expect to “lead the way” as we’ve always been taught, and people will intrinsically figure it out and implement by osmosis. It has to be more tactical than that. Think about the tangible things we expect from our teams. We don’t expect them to “figure out” the KPI’s or the strategy that we are driving for. We TELL them what the expectations are for their role, for their work, for their deliverables. We communicate what it looks like to be successful with results; it should be no different for culture.
  3.     Lastly, they don’t lead with Culture. They lead with results or tangibles. They don’t recognize that culture is a tool that can affect behavior and actions faster than any policy or procedure. If they do not PROTECT the culture that they’ve built, they’ve lost any momentum they ever had. If you as a Leader do not address culture violations immediately, you are encouraging behavior that is mis-aligned. “What you allow, you encourage”. Also, your expectations of the actions and behaviors that align with your culture must be applicable to everyone. You will lose all credibility if one person has the ability to behave in any way they choose just because they’ve been the top salesman for the last 10 years or you can’t “afford” to lose the knowledge or experience that they have.  

Culture is a collection of behaviors and actions, practiced consistently, that creates an environment. It’s the actions of your team when no one is looking. 

If you, as a Leader, can intentionally strategize the culture that you want on your team, communicate it, and lead by that culture; you will create an environment that your ideal employee wants to connect with and belong to. This is the key for attracting and retaining the right talent for your team.