Company climate is produced by what the people in the organization perceive as important.

People in the company see what gets noticed and what doesn’t get noticed, the gaps between what leaders say and do as well as their commitment level to their own goals and initiatives. These observations count for more in future behavior than written memos, documented policy, or things said in company meetings and speeches. When employees make these observations and mental deductions, it gets reinforced by what employees say to each other in meetings and after meetings. Here, the actual boundaries of the work climate are created. 

When we know what standards we will not negotiate on, unclear boundaries become very clear. Most of the executives I’ve worked with would like to put most of the accountability in the hands of their employees. But in order to create true, intentional, clear accountability, the leader of the organization must establish true, intentional, and clear boundaries, rather than boundaries created by the inconsistent actions of those in charge. When the CEO is inconsistent, unintentional, and unclear, the organization will follow suit.

We know what behaviors and habits we want to see happening and which ones we will not tolerate. These boundaries create coaching and feedback opportunities to help staff get on the road of continual improvement, which improves the overall organization as time passes. This is not just a matter of following rules — it’s more about employees making a true commitment to the company and, perhaps even more importantly, to one another. The leader can outline the non-negotiables, but ultimately you want your people to buy in and hold themselves accountable.  

When leaders have to force themselves to hold employees accountable, it means employees have a mere transactional relationship with the organization rather than a powerful, transformational one.

Transformational experiences create increased capabilities, confidence, and self-esteem. Transactional experiences lead to the “Monday Blues” and “Thank God It’s Friday” mental models.

Thoughtful planning and implementation can help in the transition from a transactional environment to a transformational one. In creating these firm non-negotiable principles, which are going to be the bedrock on which we build our desired environment, we need to keep in mind these critical factors.

Purpose and Strategy

Your purpose is the answer to the question “Why is this company here and operating?” Your strategy is the answer to the question, “What is the simple plan to drive sustainable growth in revenue and gross margins?” Your cornerstone non-negotiables must support these two components of purpose and strategy. Without clarity on these answers, you will be lost.

Culture and Climate

Leaders drive culture; followers shape climate. The leadership team must decide on which non-negotiables will work to shape the culture they need to accomplish the purpose and strategy. How well they communicate and demonstrate that culture to the team will determine the climate — the day-to-day workplace reality. Culture should be consistent and universal, but climate can vary across an organization.

Brand

Non-negotiables are essential to create the consistent customer experience you want. What is the distinction you are trying to create for your enterprise? Does that match up with what your clients actually see, hear, and feel? Just like the culture and climate, there can be a gap between what you want the experience to be and what the experience is.

Leadership in these critical areas is what every organization needs to succeed at the highest levels. Leadership is demonstrated by consistently reinforcing the non-negotiables and making sure that standards are high and consistent. Leaders must not get sucked into a heavy diet of technical work, but rather spend time inspiring team members and having clear expectations on their values, words, attitudes, and behaviors every day. This consistency of action educates employees intentionally instead of forcing them to make deductions on their own.

Tony Richards is an organizational and executive development expert and CEO of Clear Vision Development Group, a leadership and strategy firm in Columbia, Missouri. He is one of Inc. magazine’s top 100 leadership speakers and thinkers. His firm’s website is www.clearvisiondevelopment.com. Follow Tony on Twitter @tonyrichards4.

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