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Culture – In A Single Agreement

It’s Saturday today…. while my family enjoyed their morning… I spoke at a clients office. This client has monthly all hands meetings. They cover a variety of topics at these meetings and todays topic was culture…. which I was to speak on.

The clients objective was that I outline what the culture of the company will be. One of the partners had an expectation that I would be presenting structure and detailed explanations of what the culture “is”. The other partner had no expectation… she was more interested is seeing where it all went.

Here is the challenge. Culture is not something you present to people… it just isn’t possible to have a meeting… present the culture you want… and voila… it happens. Culture is much more fluid than that. At 3C we have a definition for culture that drives our models and thinking:

Culture is the integrity of the agreements your company has.

Culture is the integrity of the agreements your company has…….. now… in order to apply this definition we must define 2 important words – integrity and agreements.

We live by the following definition of integrity: “doing what you say you will do, as you said you will do it… and doing what you know needs to be done, as you know it needs to be done.”

Living by the above definition of Integrity allows us to define agreements as “anything we say we will do and anything we know needs to be done.”

That’s it. That is how complex culture gets… “do people do what they say they will do… and do they do what they know is needed to be done…. as they know it is needed to be done.” That…. is culture.

Our client this morning understands and is aligned fully with this definition of culture and we are now in the very beginning of establishing the agreements for their culture. Over the last few weeks I have been working with the leadership to define the agreements they want inside their company… and the agreements they want outside their company. We created 3 main agreements for inside their company… and today they wanted me to explain what they mean and to bring the culture “to life”!

I walked in alone. No presentation. No fancy handouts. I didn’t even have an agenda for the 3 hour meeting. The only objective I had for the meeting was to cause this team to agree to perform together. But I knew I couldn’t ask this. There is no presentation that would make these specific people work together……. Imagine asking people to agree to perform together… we would spin all day as we tried to align on what performance meant…. and I had 3 hours.

If we were going to create momentum for a new culture in this meeting then I had to do something different. I took guidance from the fact that the self help industry is worth over $10,000,000,000 in the US and is the 2nd fastest growing segment….. why is this so?

The self help industry is this big because we want to be better…. no…. we all want to be our best! The challenge with being our best is that we have no idea what that looks like… even when we achieve something great… we will quickly wonder what we could do that is even better. Being our best is a fleeting moment that we often overlook or don’t even realize. Playing off this insight, I was prepared with a few conversation based exercises that would cause people to start talking about what it means to be… our best.

About 90 minutes in… it was clear that people were starting to see WHY we were all there… early on a Saturday… because we all wanted to gain some value that enhanced our life. It was around this time that my exercise came to life…. the result I wanted was happening. One of the employees stood at the front and said the following to the team…

Can you make me better?

These words were magic for my client (the owners). Their smiles proved that they saw where I was going…. “yes” was called out by one person…. and everyone was getting excited………. but it was the wrong statement. I stopped the momentum towards agreeing to this request…… I turned to the person and said…. “the answer to your question is yes for everyone. They don’t even have to think about it and there is no commitment within this question….. yes… everyone CAN make you better…”

Puzzled looks and curiosity filled the now quiet room……. so I continued “by asking CAN you make me better, does not mean that people will make you better” quickly the person laughed and asked “Will you make me better…..” to which everyone else laughed…. including me…. it was well played!

“No…” I said…. “that’s not it either…” although we were getting closer…..

Will you make me better is very difficult for people to answer. Superficially people may say yes… and they may mean it. However… if you really listen to that question it contains an element of judgement and doubt… WILL YOU? Will you make me better?

I spoke quietly to the person…. “Try saying…. Do you agree to make me my best?”

When he asked this question the response was very different…. people stopped to think about it. The conversation turned quickly into how the team would communicate together. How they would give each other input on what it looks like to be “my best”. Importantly, 100% of the people immediately and genuinely wanted to agree to make the person their best AND they wanted the team to agree to also make themselves their best. Everyone wanted this for each other… and for themselves… to be… their best!

With this, their culture started. It started with the most fundamental agreement. To make each other our best. Everyone in the company agreed and we spent the rest of the meeting discussing what “the best” looked like. Some people came up and we talked about the ways they are their best…. we talked about what it looks like to give clients the best experience…. and we created what it looked like for the company to be its best.

Do you agree to make me my best?

This single, simple agreement is a powerful tool in any culture. It creates a culture based on performance. It causes people to be open to input from each other…. and is a wonderful start to a strong culture.

Do your people support each other in being their best? Has internal competition hindered your growth and created politics? Do your people want the best for each other… and the best for the company?

Next… this company will spend time talking about what it looks like to be… the best. An important conversation at every level.