the culture engine | Book Review

If you want more positive behaviors, decisions, and actions in your organization’s culture, you must begin work to change the underlying expectations of leaders in your organization.” (p. 9)

S. Chris Edmonds shares a methodical, step-by-step how-to manual for developing and implementing an organizational constitution. Subtitled A Framework for Driving Results, Inspiring Your Employees, And Transforming Your Workplace, we may consider this guidebook a highly recommended supplement for Academy Leadership Advanced Leadership Course graduates. 

This unique road map encompasses both use of a Personal Leadership Philosophy (My Leader’s Compass workshop), normative behavioral statements (Core Values Alignment workshop), and additionally includes Cultural Effectiveness Assessments (five questions each) which may be used for tailored Survey Monkey analysis.  

Just as Jim Collins stresses values alignment, Edmonds learned that aligned behaviors are the pathway to workplace inspiration – and that misaligned behaviors lead to workplace frustration (p. xviii). 

This review links each of the book’s three parts: Defining, crafting, and managing to an organizational constitution, respectively, to key leadership concepts and relevant Academy Leadership workshops.

I | Definition | Why Do This? 

Edmonds advises we pursue our organization’s truth, by (pp. 4-5):

• De-Insulating Yourself.
• Genuinely Connecting with Team Members.
• Seeking Out Truth-Tellers.
• Sharing Your Assumptions and Your Learning.

A commitment to continuous and open feedback is required to do this, which likely will require increasing relational capacity with your team. Recall commitment to feedback is one (of eight) of the key parts of a Personal Leadership Philosophy.

Reminiscent of team formation stages (Building High Performance Teams workshop) Edmonds lists, from lowest to highest, the levels of workplace inspiration (p. 10):

• Dysfunction
• Tension
• Civility
• Acknowledgement
• Validation

The validation level is the highest degree of workplace inspiration, with indicators reflecting leader to coach transformation. Not only is credit given for efforts and accomplishment, responsibility and authority is given to engaged, talented team members (p. 10). Consider how most organizations treat culture administratively, merely displaying posters and/or web pages proclaiming myriad noble traits. We need to actually do much more.

Edmonds insists if leaders want the culture to evolve, they must act to clarify their desired culture (defining it in behavioral terms), model their desired culture (living it in every interaction), and hold everyone on the team or in the company accountable for living it in every interaction (p. 13). He offers a useful tool, The Performance-Values Matrix:

The challenge with this model is how to measure the values match (p. 21). How do we do this? Edmonds contends the only way to shift values from lofty, vague references is to define values in observable, tangible, measurable behaviors (p. 22). This sentiment, or call to defined actions, is the central message of the book.

Most of us have probably tolerated poor values performance as an occasionally necessary trade-off with superstars. But, the upper-left quadrant is where the most damaging players reside (p. 23).

Performance Values Matrix copy.jpg

In The Integrity Dividend, Dr. Tony Simons defines behavioral integrity as managers demonstrating their organization’s values and doing what they say they will do (p. 31). Or, more simply put, walking the walk. You create your legacy with every plan, decision, and action. Everything you do tells your boss, peers, team members, and customers what you stand for (p. 34). Consider how different this environment may be from your current one.

II | Crafting | How to Document This

First, culture must become a high-payoff activity (HPA - from Setting Leadership Priorities workshop). Edmonds: “You’ll need to redirect time and energy to culture-champion activities from less important actions (p. 39).” This may seem alien. Recognize most team leaders and team members have never lived in an intentional, high-performance, values-aligned work environment (p. 40).

Comparable to day three of an Advanced Leadership Course (Personal Development Plan), Edmonds requests that we clarify [our] personal purpose (p. 43), and further add observable, tangible, measurable behaviors to each value (p. 51). This process is nearly identical to the Core Values Alignment workshop. On pages 56-63, Edmonds outlines a robust process for creating a Personal Leadership Philosophy.

In the absence of clarity, with no formal declaration of purpose or mission, the practical reality of day-to-day activity becomes the accepted focus, the norm (p. 72). An effective purpose statement should be clear about what the company does. 2008 Research (Institute for Corporate Productivity) found that while 84 percent of organizations studied have published a mission statement, 62 percent of those companies said that just half of their employees could repeat it (p. 78).

In Delivering HappinessTony Hsieh’s story of Zappos, the company’s values have been jointly developed, communicated and demonstrated throughout the company. Edmonds calls these behavioral terms. Values and valued behaviors are the evidence of your constitution that is noticed by people – customers, potential employees, everyone who comes into contact with your team members (p. 89). 

In our Accountability: Building a Culture of Responsibility workshop, we learn that responsibility is an internal force and accountability is an external force. We may apply this to strategies & goals. Edmonds describes strategy as where the company’s vision of the future intersects with the realities of the now, where traction is gained one product test and one happy customer at a time (p. 113), but likewise mentions that we often don’t publish or share them.

On pages 121-122 Edmonds illustrates a Five-point Strategic Planning Wheel which outlines a useful process to overcome these constraints: 

• Where are we now?
• What opportunities or imperatives shall we consider?
• Decide (prioritize) how to leverage company’s combination of skills, vision, and ingenuity.
• Work your plan.
• Assess progress on and effectiveness of strategies and goals.

Managing | Live It

How do we know when we are living within our defined culture? Here are several key metrics, which extend beyond typical operational and financial ones (pp. 137-138):

• Employee satisfaction or engagement.
• Absenteeism.
• Turnover.
• Tenure.
• Time to fill.
• Productivity.
• Revenue per employee.

Edmonds tells the inspirational story of Garry Ridge (WD-40) who began studying tribes, including Aboriginal tribe behaviors. Their first tribal attribute is identity and belonging; their second attribute is learning and teaching (p. 156). That’s getting to the heart of engagement.

This leads to transformational leadership. While team members apply their time, energy, and skills toward meeting (or exceeding) formalized goals, the leader takes on the role of performance observer and coach (p. 163). This is what Stanley McChrystal learned and shared in Team of Teams.

Many of our written Leadership Philosophies state Leading by Example. Why is this so important? Before any team members can be asked to embrace the new values and behaviors, leaders – those with formal supervisory responsibility – must put themselves on the line by living the values and behaviors and inviting feedback through the values survey (p. 182). 

Resistance to an organizational constitution is likely. Edmonds cautions: “If you allow one values-misaligned leader or player to continue his or her bad behavior after you’ve implemented your organizational constitution, you’ve pulled the rug out from under your values-aligned players.” (p. 191) Here’s his antidote (pp. 196-199):

• Don’t take the resistance personally.
• Present what you’ve heard and observed in a calm, nonblaming, nonjudgmental manner.
• Understand the resister’s perspective.
• Every leader must be fully on board.
• Give the resistant leaders a chance to align to your organizational constitution.

Do you hire primarily for values alignment? If your team or company is like most others across the globe today, the primary lens you use when hiring new players is that of skills and past accomplishments (p. 205). This is what the  Riggs’ concluded in Counter Mentor Leadership.

Or put more simply (p. 213):

“The moral of these stories is that the way you treat new
hires tells them more about your purpose,
values, and culture than anything you say.”


A golden nugget about health and energy:

"The healthier you are, the better you’ll be able
to manage being a visible, proactive champion of your

team or company’s desired work environment." (p. 66)

Note: Chris Edmonds generously provided a copy of his book for review.

JE | July 2018