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The Proteus Leader Show #31: Purposeful Culture

With guest Chris Edmonds, author/co-author of seven books and founder of The Purposeful Culture Group, Erika discusses workplace culture and its importance as Chris shares the tools he has used for decades to help industry-leading executives build value aligned cultures that are purposeful, positive and productive.

00:00-01:02 - Introduction

01:03-06:14 - Managers' Roles in Shaping Culture

06:15-11:49 - Biggest Impediments to Creating the Right Company Culture

11:50-14:56 - How Any Leader Can Create a Positive & Productive Culture

14:57-16:04 - Closing

Intro: 00:01 You're listening to the Proteus Leader Show with Erika Andersen, where you'll get practical tools and insights for leading, managing and staying ready for the future. Erika is the founding partner of Proteus, a firm that focuses uniquely on leader readiness. A nationally known executive coach and bestselling author, you may already know her as one of the most popular leadership bloggers on Ready for something you can use today? Here's Erika.

Erika: 00:31 Hello everyone. Welcome back to the Proteus Leader Show. Today I'm here with Chris Edmonds, founder of The Purposeful Culture Group. For nearly three decades, industry leading executives have Chris out to help them build and sustain values, align cultures that are purposeful, positive and productive. He's also the author or co author of seven books and speaks to companies around the world about the power of culture. So Chris, welcome to the show.

Chris: 00:59 Erika, thank you so much for the opportunity. Excited to be here.

Erika: 01:03 Yes. I'm excited to have you. And as I found out more about you and your work in preparation for the conversation, so much of what you say about workplace culture and it's importance really resonates for me and so I thought that hearing your thoughts about this would really benefit our listeners. You said an interesting thing to me last week, which is that managing results is half the leader's job and managing culture is the other half. So could you explain why you believe that and how to do it?

Chris: 01:31 Absolutely, and I think all of us have that same impression because we begin to observe the way our leaders have behaved over the course of careers or jobs and whatnot. And so [unable to transcribe] don't miss much and I tell senior leaders that all the time and of course they're horrified because people have an opinion. I don't think I like that, you know, but the idea is to really help leaders realize that they have the skills to manage culture effectively. They've just never been asked to do it and often they don't really quite know how to do it. So over the last 30 years nearly of my work, I've realized that the first thing that I have to do is educate. And once I educate and once there's a pain point, right, that we can all agree on that it's okay, we can fix that. And it's not me as a consultant, it's me helping you because it's your house, right? So the idea of managing results is half your job. You know, again, leaders are kind of shocked at that because it's number one, the only thing they're asked to do and number two, it's the only thing they're paid to do. And here I am coming in from way out of the blue and saying, you know, good for you....No. It's not your whole job. And the reality is, as we look at the great bosses we've had, what we realized is that they didn't let people just simply deliver on their performance promises that that was important and making money is important and having more money at the end of the day then you've spent is important. And yet what really made those great bosses inspiring to us was the fact that they held us accountable for being stinking nice to each other. And some did it in fun ways; some did it in kind of assertive ways. All of them had a structure and discipline to it and so that's what that message is about is if you want to craft an organization where people feel trusted and respected, it won't happen without some intention and attention on your part as a leader and now they're like, oh, okay, I get that, but what do I do? You know, what do I do?

Erika: 03:57 Yes, so I'm fascinated to - obviously I completely agree with you - how surprised is the average leader when you tell him or her that?

Chris: 04:07 It's fascinating because they are surprised a bit and they kind of figured that cultures are the responsibility of HR and I delegate that to them. I go hmmm, no, and why is that? Well, it's because only senior leaders have the authority to change expectations and to change incentives and to change rewards and they go, well wait, but I still don't know how to do it. Okay, that's easy. But the reality is that they often don't necessarily think of the issues they're facing as culture problems at all. Right. They're talent issues or personality conflicts. And so they're dismissive, but just in the way they even think about them. And so once you get a lone voice often from HR can be from OD can be from, you know, the gal who's running the division that is running perfectly, it has very little drama, you know, how do you do that?

Chris: 05:10 And it's like, just people being nice to each other and that is discounted out of hand. And so it's the idea that, well, think about the engagement data. Yay, we do engagement surveys. Well engagement hasn't changed in 30 years and so whatever we're doing, you know, a percentage point isn't what we're looking for. We're looking at 20, 30, 40 percent differences in the way people feel about how they're treated at work. And then you are going to tap discretionary energy. You're going to have people solve problems you didn't even know about. You're going to have people be nice to each other, et cetera.

Erika: 05:51 Once you've gotten them past the initial shock and connected with, Oh yes, the leader that I've had the most respect for in my life actually was intentional about this. What are the things that, as you've observed doing all this work for the last few decades, what are the main things that get in the way of people and organizations then going, oh, okay, well then let's do something about this? What are the biggest impediments?

Chris: 06:15 Great, great, great question. And really the first piece is, as I've mentioned, it's the absence of understanding. It's the understanding that that's half of your job that is a primary responsibility for it. And so the, how tos become really important. And so the other thing that I've learned is what I want to do is to help leaders have some confidence in the fact that they've already got the skills to do this. If you manage performance clarity and you've got clear goals and tasks and you hold people accountable for those good, we're going to leverage those same skills over here in the values area and again, and I get the RCA dog. Oh boy, does that date me by the way, but it's the kind of quizzical, what do you mean? And I said, well, we need to do. If we're going to make values as important as the results, as we must make them as measurable as results, and so my approach and the culture engine book is about crafting an organizational constitution and that language, everyone nods their heads, oh, I get it. A constitution. I said, you know, if I'm, if I'm working in Europe, I'll use Magna Carta, right? It's still the same foundational piece, which is you actually have to be extremely explicit about what you expect. So just as we expect these kinds of performance targets on a given hour, day, week, quarter, then we're going to define values in observable, tangible, measurable terms, and they go, Oh, so we're going to get integrity, for example, away from then - well, everyone knows what integrity is. No, no, no, no, no. You have to tell them exactly what you mean by integrity. And we do it through behaviors like I do what I say I will do. I follow up with stakeholders, so it becomes an observable, tangible, measurable. So just as we have dashboards that help leaders keep track of performance traction, we're going to create dashboards in the form of either pulse surveys on a weekly basis or monthly or quarterly basis, at least twice a year. We're going to do a value survey that's going to allow employees to say, for these 10 right valued behaviors don't do 50, do 10 or 12: my boss keeps his promises or she follows through on her commitments or so they can be rated and that profile then becomes the other half of the expectation and it's praising were fair staff, their team members see them aligned to those behaviors and it's coaching where you see misses just as you would do for performance management. So literally what I'm trying to do is to kind of build some confidence that they already know how to do this and we're just going to apply it in the very important but virtually untouched side of their business.

Erika: 09:19 Yeah, that's great. Not only is it - you're saying - I love this - you already have these skills of getting clear about what's necessary and holding people accountable to it and measuring those agreements. You're also at the same time, I think most people think of culture is this kind of murky artsy, I don't know, but maybe I'll know it when I see it - kind of thing and you're saying no, you culture can be as clear and as explicit and as measured as performance and that's exactly right.

Chris: 09:53 Well, and and where the burden falls is not only on senior leaders defining what these rules are going to be and I see them as liberating rules, they're good things, but then they have to model them themselves. I tell them all the time, you will never be able to run a yellow light in this town again, and then they laugh, but it's the realization that they've tolerated bad behavior because they didn't have the structure. They didn't have the agreements. Now that they do, then they are going to be held accountable. They're going to be closely scrutinized. Sorry, but this is your job.

Erika: 10:36 Yes, it is your job and people always attend much more to what people actually do, than what they say they're supposed to.

Chris: 10:42 Absolutely. And it's interesting. I'm working with a client now - we're about 10 months in and typically this process, there's a defined process which is the crafting of the organizational constitution, but then there's the align process, which of course never ends and it's that modeling and coaching and praising alignment and redirecting misalignment, and they're in the mode now where they're - November will be their first formal of the customer value survey and they're starting to see some leaders say, I don't think I can succeed under those circumstances here. And it's like, okay, that's fine, you know, because if you're going to stay here, these are the rules. And then there's the other 60 percent of those leaders are saying, finally, we've had people behave so badly for 20 years around here. So the consequences become vital because that's the means to accountability. You can't tolerate that behavior. You've got to praise the tar out of them.

Erika: 11:51 So as you're talking about it, Chris, and again, I completely agreed - an organization-wide effort to have to align rewards and incentives and you know, punishments even against that. So what if I'm a leader, I'm in an organization who's not doing this work. What can I do to help me, even the culture of my team more positive and productive?

Chris: 12:17 It's critical because a lot of times it's those leaders in a small team in a small department, in a small division, they go, we can make this better, and so for one, the Culture Engine book is written for that leader and I've had hundreds of leaders since this book was published back in 2014 say, the rest of my organization, they're still all screwy, but by god, I've got 12 people here that get this and they're holding each other accountable. So the reality is you can actually do this, create an organizational constitution that your own team, that's your own department, the division and the soft start, which is a piece that I think is at the root of your question, Erika, is the idea of create some ground rules that are really more focused upon not the performance side of things, not the results side of things. You've got plenty of dashboards and plenty of systems that are going to monitor that. What you have to do is actually create some of these rules that for our meetings and for our interactions, these are our five ground rules. You know, I don't dismiss [unable to translate] or discount or there's ideas of reference and it's simple stuff like that starts engaging - but again, that's the definition side. The alignment side is a little harder, but it, lets leaders start to play a bit with again, the other half of their jobs and to create some democratic rules, right? That we're all gonna try and monitor these. We have to change some of the rules here and some of the language in the next three months, but we're going to try it. And what it does is it sets a different standard. It again puts them on the pedestal to be scrutinized, but if they can build some - let's just call it credibility for, and others are going to go, oh yeah, this makes sense.

Erika: 14:20 Some credibility and some momentum in that direction. I love that. We often do that with clients - kind of whiteboard - what are the road rules, what are the rules of engagement - one that I love, I am convinced that if people had this as a rule, about two thirds of our problems would go away is when I have an issue with someone, I will go to them directly versus going to third parties.

Chris: 14:41 Exactly, and it's the - we're both responsible for making a difference, making it better. They may not have intended to blow that up, but we can follow this up because I'm going to be working with this guy or gal for years.

Erika: 14:57 Oh, this is so great. Really just wonderful food for thought and action and, listeners: you can find out more about Chris Edmonds' work at and his latest book Culture Engine and I feel like we just scratched the surface here so I hope people do go to those resources and also listeners, if you'd like to find out more about how we at Proteus help leaders build better cultures, which is very aligned with what Chris is saying, just go to and choose the Company Culture topic. Thank you so much for being with us today, Chris.

Chris: 15:31 Erika thank you so much for the opportunity. Just enjoyed - again, after all these years of supporting each other in social media, we get voice-to-voice finally.

Erika: 15:40 Yes, it's great, and so listeners, until next time, here's to creating the life you truly want.

Outro: 15:47 We hope you're feeling better equipped to create the career, the business and the life you want. For more insights and tools for leadership and management, join us Have an excellent day and thanks for listening.