Podcast  /  Work Minus Frustrating Culture with Chris Edmonds

Work Minus Frustrating Culture with Chris Edmonds

The word “Culture” has blown up a lot in the last 5 years. Even with the buzz around culture, a lot of organizational leaders haven't really shifted their primary focus on relationships with their employees.

Chris Edmonds, founder and CEO of the Purposeful Culture Group and author of the book “The Culture Engine” tells us how leaders can create a culture that is less frustrating and how to hold people accountable while maintaining a respectable culture.

What we learned from this episode

We should hold people accountable for results but also hold them accountable for respect.

Investing in culture is always worth it. It’s way too fun to work with people that are civil to each other.

Stop tolerating bad behaviours if you want a respectable culture.

What you can do right now

Start thinking about your servant purpose.

Ask, what's the worst behavior you allow on your team?

Key Quotes

"A lot of organizational leaders haven't really made that our primary focus of their relationships with their players. And so, we've got a lot of evolving to do. But I think that's why culture is increasingly a greater focus."

"But where we find the most frustration in small businesses and multinationals, everything in between, is that people don't treat each other very well. Bosses don't treat their followers very well. Team members screw their buddy every day."

"Culture is not only worth investing in, it's way more fun to have a culture where people actually are civil/respect each other, way, way more fun.”

Today, our guest is Chris Edmonds. He’s the founder and CEO of the Purposeful Culture Group and this is Work Minus Frustrating Culture. Hi, Chris. How are you?

Neil, thanks for the opportunity. I’m excited to be here.

We are very excited to have you on. Why don’t you give us a little bit of an introduction about yourself?

Well, I’m a working musician but that doesn’t make any money, so.

Nice. What do you play?

I’m a guitar player mostly in this band and we do a lot of weddings and corporate stuff and that kind of thing. But I get to do electric banjo in this band. I do electric mandolin. I play some bass. I do background vocals. It’s a ball. Talk about an interesting culture, most bands have cultures and they’re not very healthy. But we’re not here to fix that. So, mostly, I’m a speaker and a writer, author, and an executive consultant. So, I literally consult, that’s the bulk of my business, with leaders of teams and divisions and departments and small businesses and multinationals and everything in between to help them create a purposeful, positive, productive work culture.

So, we’re using the big C word, culture, which seems to have blown up in the last five years. I don’t know what happened.

It has indeed. In fact, in the last ten years it’s gotten increasing focus and Deloitte does some really cool research every year and their global human capital report and 2016’s found that senior leaders felt like culture was one of the most important contributors to business success and only 19% of those leaders felt like they actually knew how their culture was currently operating. So, again, the opportunity is and it’s very classic that when I began working with leaders, there’s a lot of education going on. This is the stuff you look for. Culture is this amorphous blob. And let’s look at some specifics and I’ve tried to make it quite easy but most leaders have never been asked to manage culture and now it’s much more important. I think there’s a couple of contributors to that.

One is the economy is much, much, much, much better which leads people who maybe in ‘08, ‘09, 2010 were hanging on to work in jobs that weren’t very validating/fun because there were fewer opportunities. And now, it’s like, well, screw that. I don’t have to stay in an environment where I’m not valued, where I’m not inspired, where I have teammates who aren’t fun, who aren’t nice, etc., to have much greater flexibility. And I think there’s young kids, those newer generations coming in, are going to continue to want to have experiences that are more fun and inspiring, and God forbid, meaningful. And a lot of organizational leaders haven’t really made that our primary focus of their relationships with their players. And so, we’ve got a lot of evolving to do. But I think that’s why culture is increasingly a greater focus.

Do you feel like culture is something that we’ve just grown the luxury of being able to talk about now or has it always been something from successful companies?

That’s a great question. What I love as I look back now, I’ve been doing this for 30 years, and I look back into the early years, some people who were always amazed at Ritz Carlton hotels. Zappos came around and it’s like, oh, they’ve got such a cool culture. And Starbucks had a burp a few five, six, eight years ago, came back, they’ve got a very cool, very interesting culture. And they were small companies that had cool cultures. But there wasn’t as great an awareness and I think literally goes back to what I just mentioned was leaders have never been asked to manage culture. And increasingly they are and they have no idea what to look for, they have no idea how to fix it if they find it’s bent or broken. And so, I really believe that the other thing that’s very interesting, and I bet you’ve heard this as well, is a greater appreciation for the employee experience which totally goes to culture and that experience and how are people treated, how are they hired, how are they kept informed, all of that has to do with increasing an employee’s confidence that my leaders are doing the right thing, we’re headed in the right direction, our customers love us and we could do better at that, but this is a good place to be. Or none of those things are true and it’s not a good place to be.

So, let’s get into your book called “The Culture Engine.” One of the things you advocate for in there is to have leaders actually draft something called the organizational constitution which sounds really stuffy but you’re going to make it cool for us, right?

I promise I’ll make it cool and easy. And what’s very cool is that the language, especially in western society, talking about an organizational constitution, people go, oh, there’s going to be rules and we’re going to enforce them. Well, yes, like traffic laws, I mean, literally. And so, the idea of formalizing what you want in your work culture first makes it much, much easier to hire to align people’s behavior to it, all that stuff. So, there’s four elements of an organizational constitution and the first is servant purpose. We’ll speak a bit more about that in a minute. The second is values and behaviors which is hugely important. And the last two pieces are strategies and goals. And so, we basically combine strategies and goals which is the result side, the performance side of the business which is critically important but is only half the leader’s job and the servant purpose and values and behaviors are the other half of the leader’s job which is crafting a workplace where people feel respected and valued. Duh.

And so, the servant purpose piece is very interesting. Early, early on, this is 20 years ago way back when video cameras were not quite as readily available to everybody and I’d say go get a camera, go out and interview 20 people in your organization and ask them what the purpose of your business is. It was hilarious because the bulk of the information that came back was, well, we make money, well, we make cars or we make sandwiches or whatever it is, but there wasn’t a lot of passion around that. It was matter of fact. And the thing that this helped leaders get to is it wasn’t me as an outsider just saying you may not be helping people really develop significant in the work that they do, which you could do. They’re going to be there anyway. You might as well get them interested in things. But making money doesn’t necessarily help their family, their life, today. And yet, improving the quality of life in their community or customers, by the way, that’s a big job. That’s a very significant vision and how does what we do, how does making sandwiches make the world a better place, etc.? And the reality is there’s companies that are doing it really well.

And so, the idea of who are we serving and to what end besides making money? How are we improving literally quality of life? And there’s some really, really cool insights that people get to. I’ve got a client I’ve been working with for about 18 months now that is an electrical contracting business and they do commercial properties, they do multi family, they do custom homes, all that, and their servant purpose was peace of mind that electricity is going to work right, it’s not going to zap your kid when they plug in the toaster when you get in the first week in this cool home. That was immensely inspiring. And so, here’s this little company that really gets it. And  another servant purpose that I’m so inspired by is a company that printed catalogs and what they got to was we are the source of our customer success and so we help our customers’ businesses thrive because we’re doing the right colors, we can set it the right day with the right prices. It’s very interesting, very, very interesting. And so, the idea of a servant purpose creates increasing satisfaction, increasing motivation to do the right thing. The biggest pieces I said, and again, strategies and goals, a lot of companies need to do that better and need to hold people accountable for performance better. But where we find the most frustration in small businesses and multinationals, everything in between, is that people don’t treat each other very well. Bosses don’t treat their followers very well. Team members screw their buddy every day. And the reality is if the only thing that gets measured is the traction on results, you can have people behave very badly to get that recognition because it’s the only recognition they have.

And so, literally, when I speak to leaders about we’re going to help you create rules for people being nice to each other. And they’re like why would we do that? And I say, well, let me go back to the interviews I did and let me talk about the lack of trust and let me talk about the literal backstabbing that happens in most teams today and that if you want people to feel trusted, honored, respected every day, unfortunately, hope is not a really smart way of going about that. So, literally I help those leaders what are the three or four values you want, don’t do ten. Don’t do ten. We can’t remember ten. I might not be able to remember five so do three or four and then do literal, observable, tangible, measurable behaviors, maybe three of them, for each value. And so, it translates integrity. Integrity is a very common value that the companies I work with want. But they say, well, everybody knows what that means. No, they don’t. And let’s define it and be very specific about what it’s going to mean in your company now. And so, one of the things that I suggest is I do what I say I will do. That gets us to I not you. I means I have to do it every day and it’s actually observable, tangible, measurable.

So, as you can guess, as we get to better accountability for results which means set clear targets, hold people accountable or measure it, monitor it, reward it, you have to do the same thing with these valued behaviors. You have to model them. You have to coach them. You have to not tolerate that behavior anymore. And it’s magnificent. It takes a while. In most companies, it’s 12+ months. But when employees see that citizenship, teamwork, most the work ethic is defined as why don’t you tell me that’s what you want me to do it won’t be mean anymore. It’s very, very interesting. And of course, the reality is just as you find when you’re more conscious and more disciplined about holding people accountable for performance, as you hold people accountable for values, you’re going to have some folks that are going to say you’re not paying me enough to be nice to these morons. I’m leaving. And it’s like, go. It’s fine. Go. And let’s keep people that do want to be respectful and that at the same time we can solve problems for customers and those customers are going to love us from the buzz is going to be good and social media will be good and on and on and on. It’s very interesting and you heard me made earlier, Neil, say this is about the other half of the leader’s job and managing results is certainly important but it’s no less important than managing sanity, civility, and respect in a workplace. Does that help?

Yeah. Absolutely. Let’s talk about somebody who leads a team but doesn’t necessarily lead the organization. They feel like they want to establish within their team a certain culture. They recognize that maybe the outside there isn’t a defined culture, it’s just a little bit toxic and so they want to create some kind of incubated space in there. How can they do that?

Absolutely easy to do and I have a lot of what I get is cool fan mail, let’s call it, with someone who’s head of a department in the middle of a broader organization, could be a multinational, could be a corporate beast somewhere, but it’s like their team culture was toxic. So, I want to fix this. And literally, I say let’s use the values of behaviors but call them ground rules. There’s not this formal organizational structure that’s being implemented or a formal initiative that’s being cracked. Let’s do this casually and set four or five ground rules. Literally they can be something as simple as I don’t lie, cheat, or steal, right? I tell the truth. I do what I say will do. This is all confidential. Let’s not spread it. Whatever it is. And those values can all of a sudden change the nature of relationships. And so, literally it doesn’t mean that that individual team leader or department leader or even region leader has to take on the responsibility of fixing the whole organizational culture. No. No. No. Do what’s in your sphere of influence, so that “span of control”. And again, hold people accountable for results but hold people accountable for respect and it’s literally as simple as picking some ground rules.

Yes, I have some suggestions in my book about this soft start but what is very interesting is that if the leader is disciplined enough and diligent enough to call people on their crap. If this is not one of our ground rules being followed, you’ve got to have a conversation and those are tough conversations. But as people understand that these rules are serious I may as well be nice to these morons rather than, these friends, these colleagues, or whatever, I’m not going to tease anymore, that can be a huge, huge shift towards respect. It makes a tremendous difference and we’ve literally seen, and I’m going to use a retail example, had the world’s largest retailer, how’s that for subtle, a division used it, and at the time, there were three states that this leader expanded to seven states because of the success but it was store by store and if some stores didn’t want to do it, that was fine. But what became apparent was that service improved which not surprisingly boosted profits which everybody noticed because that’s what gets measured, that’s what gets measured, but if employees feel trusted and respected, they’re going to be able to treat others like customers and peers with respect and it’s going to be way more fun for a customer to go in with a family or an elderly parent or whatever and it’s safer. It’s actually enjoyable. And so, it’s very, very interesting. And the rest the organization doesn’t need to be changed. You can actually make this change absolutely take hold in a five member team or a ten member team.

So, Chris, the topic of culture is so broad. It’s been talked about so much. I think everyone recognizes its place for it. But there are some places where I think people feel like, “Man, not again. We’re not going to have that culture discussion again.” Do you think that there’s a little bit of observer effect here where you can start to ruin the culture by paying too much attention to it?

I absolutely do not think that and I think what’s interesting is it again goes back to the expectations of leaders that the only thing that they have been asked to measure, monitor, and reward is results and their role models for the past 20 years or 10 years or whatnot have been mean and bullying and assertive. We’ve all had bosses like that. We have all had bosses like that. That’s all they know. And so, the culture thing, “Oh, for God’s sake. There’s nothing wrong with our culture.” And so, it literally takes a senior leader and it could be a business owner, it could be, again, a department leader, it could be a company president to say no more. We are treating each other badly. It’s exhausting. Why don’t we at least try and be civil. Let’s have that as the first target here for this shift. And the reality is I think many leaders, many observers who say, “Oh, no, not that culture conversation again,” is no one knew how to actually make it stick, to make it sustain, and this approach is completely sustainable if leaders are willing to model it, coach it, and in essence, never let it go. And so, culture is not only worth investing in, it’s way more fun to have a culture where people actually are civil/respect each other, way, way more fun.

Chris, I’ve heard the quote that says that culture is what you allow an organization, the behavior you allow. What do you think about that one?

Absolutely. So, I talk a lot about leaders tolerating bad behavior, and again, because number one, culture hasn’t been a huge focus of theirs. They haven’t really been trained how to manage culture. And yet, I say as we start to craft, or even worse, you already have the values on the wall but people aren’t behaving according to them. So, that means those values are a lie. That’s the medical term. But it means that you are allowing bad behavior. And in fact, you could be allowing bad behavior by people in very senior positions. And so, the role modeling, it’s awful as opposed to it being actually generous and kind. And so, the idea of culture being something that leaders must invest time in is huge and it’s what you allow. And it’s a perfect term. I call it the toleration thing. If you’re tolerating bad behavior you get what you deserve because it means that behavior is okay and don’t care whether or not you’re a front line player, a 20-year employee, a senior leader, a middle manager, if you’re treating people badly and there’s no consequence, that’s going to create a very miserable culture.

So, what if you are a person who’s in a leadership position, you’re a team leader, you see somebody, you have this value that you’ve established that says, “I do what I say I’m going to do,” and then you notice that there’s one person on the team that says, “Yeah, I’ll get that done for you tomorrow,” doesn’t happen, next day comes and then they turn it in. How important is it for the leader to step in and say, “Hey, you violated our values. Here’s your demerit. Here’s your bad card.” How does a leader respond?

It’s huge because it’s consistency and it’s the issue of, “Well, if it’s a soft rule, that’s not really a rule,” and where it really takes hold, Neil, this is so cool, is when not only leaders are very proactive and it could be a one on one conversation. It may not be in front of anybody else, but it’s, “Chris, Chris, Chris, this was due at 5:00 o’clock. Here’s the consequence of this. We’re two hours late to get this back to this customer. Makes us look bad.” But it’s having that conversation because it’s about alignment. It’s not only defining your desired culture with that organizational constitution but every day it’s having alignment conversations. “This was great. Keep that up. This is falling short. Here’s the consequence of that. This is not going to help us.” But the reality is that people are going to only align to those things that are reinforced and that there’s consequences for it, either positive ones for alignment or negative consequences if you miss.

And how often should a team leader revisit a constitution. What’s an appropriate amount? I mean, you do it every week then it’s a little bit much, but if you do it every year, is that too little?

The piece that’s critical in this alignment phase is to do measurement and literally it’s doing a custom value survey that if you’ve got four values and three behaviors each, you’ve got twelve behaviors you’re going to measure and leaders get the opportunity twice a year to have their direct reports give them feedback. And literally, it’s a six point scale from strongly agree which is very desirable to strongly disagree, my boss does what she says she will do and literally that’s the application. So, what we want is agree or strongly agree because that means that the leader is demonstrating that desirable behavior consistently and so just as you have performance targets that people are held accountable to, now we’re talking about there’s values targets that people are held accountable to. So, there’s defined with the organizational constitution. There’s align which is everything we’ve been talking about. And there’s refine. And refine is it’s every couple of years take a look at the behaviors because literally what can happen is that the organization evolves and you probably won’t change your values, you probably won’t change the definitions of those values, you probably won’t change your servant purpose, you very likely will need to change strategies and goals because the market’s moving and there’s cool opportunities that pop up. But literally you could have the organization accommodate your first run of behaviors and you find new bad behaviors popping up. So, you have to go, “Well, let’s set these aside. These are not going to be “part of our core 12,” but now we’ve got a couple of behaviors that we want to address because we’re working 24/7 or we’re working in every country on the planet.” All those demands could require different behaviors to be raised up and to be formalized. So, every couple of years is fine.

Cool. Well, Chris, we could go on for a long time but why don’t you tell us where we can go to learn more about you, your book?

My main website is at Driving Results Through Culture. I know it’s a mouthful. No dashes, no spaces, just drivingresultsthroughculture.com. That’s where you’ll find my videos, my books, my research, my podcast, all that stuff is there.

Excellent. And if people need a good band, where should they go?

Go to chris-edmonds-music.com or brianraineband.com and you can find us.

Awesome. Well, Chris, thanks so much for being on the show. We appreciate your insights and look forward to talking again.

Thanks, Neil. Very much appreciate it.

Love Building the Future?

Get our weekly newsletter and stay up-to-date on the latest trends.

Subscribe To WorkMinus

Get our weekly newsletter and stay up-to-date on the latest trends, ideas, and unconventional wisdom on what you should leave behind and how you can build a better workplace.