All of us want to be part of a great culture at work. We want to belong, be excited by our work, enjoy the company of our colleagues, and feel part of something better. It’s a vibe thing, right? That’s not the whole story. As leaders, we need to identify and be intentional about the results we want in our culture too. That way we can measure what matters most.

The first step in identifying the results we want in our culture is to define what KIND of culture we are creating.

In his fabulous book, Above the Line – How to create a company culture that engages employees, delights customers, and delivers results, Michael Henderson quotes the work of Fred Wiersema and Michael Treacy from their book, The Discipline of Market Leaders: Choose your customers, narrow your focus, and dominate your market. (N.B. quoting a book, in another book, in an article – this is a bit Inception like…) Henderson summarises the three priorities for any organisation:

  1. Operational excellence

  2. Product leadership

  3. Customer intimacy

Like the wheels of a tricycle he says, we can only have one wheel leading. That lead wheel determines the flavour of our culture.

If operational excellence is your thing, then the culture will revolve around fast, effective processes, tight control of procedures and logistics, and consistent performance. The culture will want to support and celebrate behaviour that includes attention to detail, compliance, and follow through. This is not the place for spontaneity and innovation.

The results you will want to focus on in your culture will centre around operational excellence behaviours: for example, “Staff offer proactive solutions to reducing turnaround lagtimes”, or “Employees actively seek opportunities to reduce rework and duplicated procedures.” These kinds of results reflect the behaviours you want to see to support the culture you want to produce.

If product leadership is your thing, then the culture will be energised by producing new offerings to markets. The culture will celebrate and encourage new ideas, testing new products and services, and have a high tolerance of failure when it is in service to creating something new and useful for clients. This is not the place for slow-paced, highly structured individuals.

The results to drill down might include things like, “Employees make regular suggestions for improving products and services,” or, “Employees regularly challenge the status quo,” or “Employees seek to learn from theirs, and others’ mistakes”.

If customer intimacy is your thing, then the culture will focus on relationships and support of their customers, going the extra mile for them, and paying attention to the finer details of the service. This is not the place for wild ideas and brand new offerings each week. The customers need to know we’re reliable and consistent.

Results in this type of culture will be things like, “Employees go above and beyond to please the customer,” “Employees make proactive suggestions for improved customer experience.”

Once you know what your lead wheel is for your culture, identify the results (behaviours and outcomes) you need to see in your culture. Then you can choose what you’d like to measure to see if your culture’s results are moving you towards your ultimate vision.

Which culture lead wheel is right for you? What results do you want to see in your culture because of that? What could you measure to see if you are tracking successfully?