Have you ever wished for less bureaucracy, less process, fewer approvals? To achieve this, you need to be clear about how people will make decisions when there are no rules in place, no authority to ask.
The guiding principle for making decisions without a clear rule is to default to organizational values. This is not writing “Integrity” as a value on a poster on the wall and expecting that everyone will now tell the truth all the time in every circumstance. Your values come to life (or don’t) in actions you take every day in the business. How you hire, how you fire, which information you share, which you withhold. Small consistent actions you take every day communicate loud and clear what you value, and what you don’t.
In organizations, the structure, the practices and the language of work begin to define the culture. In most organizations, this is unconscious, and our culture is determined by default and often by the microcosm of the people we work with most frequently. Each leader brings their personal values to work in the absence of a strongly articulated corporate value system, and it can feel fragmented from group to group. Sales and operations within one company may have very different cultures, making it even harder to communicate and work productively.
To combat this, many organizations create rules, processes and structures and aim for “adherence” and develop a new policy every time a lapse or error is discovered. You have only to look at our legal system to see where this kind of structure leads – to an ever-expanding list of rules of work that are increasingly difficult to follow, and often restrict some helpful practices in order to prevent unhelpful ones. Frustration with delays, bureaurcracy and complicated procedures bubble over in organizations creating rules to govern behavior. And yet, we do not want individuals to run amok and put the organization in jeopardy with their actions. The best alternative I have seen is grounded in developing a robust organizational culture, based on clear values.
A recent example I came across is Netflix, and this link shares with you their 128-page powerpoint presentation on their culture, why it works for them, and how they bring it to life.
Notice how Netflix takes a conscious approach to corporate culture and chooses to take a deliberate path adhering to values that set it apart and to not take the well-trodden path in areas such as compensation, process, structure or hiring. Because they ground this culture in values, and understand that rules do not replace values, they work instead to make sure that their leaders take action that reinforces and actively communicates their values.
These are courageous choices which make Netflix stand out and be truly differentiated in how they develop, how they grow, and the kinds of people they attract.
On your path to leading fearlessly, this is the heart of a fierce culture – one which leads by example and makes choices about the kinds of behaviors that honor organizational values, and will be recognized, encouraged, rewarded, and also those behaviors that undermine organizational values and will be recognized, discouraged and moved out of the organization. It is not a path for the faint of heart – it requires self-examination, decision-making, trust in the team, and fearless action to bring it all to life every day.
Where have you been courageous in aligning your organization to its values, and dared to differentiate?