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Organizational Culture Meets Porn

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We have seen how the power of culture drives results in companies like Southwest Airlines, GE or Zappos.com. ("It's the Culture, Stupid!" )

What is culture then? Herb Kelleher -- one of the most knowledgeable leaders regarding culture that I have met -- says, "Culture is admittedly difficult to define" and continues "so maybe a good definition would be similar to the Supreme Court's definition of pornography: You know it, when you see it."

Culture is often defined as the "why we work, and how we work," or more colloquially, "this is how we do things around here." I agree with this definition, but I think it is totally misleading: Though you might think that if you set objectives and goals, and define processes and job descriptions in the "right way," all this will give as a result the right culture you are totally wrong.

So how can we best define culture? By it's impact, a positive culture is "all those things" that generate the following in the members of an organization: sense of purpose, passion, sense of community, hope, self-confidence, self-esteem, trust, pride, engagement, happiness and other positive states of mind. If you are able to create these effects in your people, you are therefore taking advantage of all the human capital that is non-intellectual or professional.

And in Herb's "pornographic" definition: That is what you see!

Within a positive culture you allow team members to discover and use their passion, creativity and energy. That is the power of culture! And great leaders are all CEOs... meaning "Chief Emotions Officers."

But you might ask: Why is it so important for people to feel all this? Because when you are able to generate this état d´esprit, you maximize not only individual but also collective performance. People work better and teams perform higher.

What can you do to achieve this état d´esprit?

There are five main roles or tasks a leader must perform in order to wake up these emotions in his or her team, and depending on how the leader performs them, this will shape the culture:

1. Establish the vision. Create a sense of purpose. Which is the dream? It must be something that wakes up emotions, that makes us jump out of bed every morning and run to work -- and don't dare tell me the dream is to increase sales by 10 percent. The dream must be challenging but attainable -- something that when accomplished as a group, also brings a specific reward to each of the individuals.
2. Care about your people, deeply and genuinely. This doesn't mean defining tasks, job descriptions or annual objectives. This means helping people to grow personally and professionally, to identify their talents and develop them. Define your organization's values by the way you treat people, and behave accordingly. Coordinate each person so that the team's performance extends well beyond the sum of individual talent.
3. Communicate and have everybody communicate. Communication is about ideas, emotions and actions. You need to share the vision, the dream; you need to give feedback and direction constantly. But you must also listen carefully to make sure every person knows his or her voice counts. And you should go beyond ideas and information and share emotions: inspiring your passion, lighting up the fire in people to achieve their dreams and being empathic with your team. And never forget words without actions are empty: "Walk your talk"!
4. Empower your people. The best leaders delegate, they support their team members in their decisions, and then facilitate learning from decisions taken -- both good and bad. Learning makes people grow. Identify the behaviors you want to drive decisions and make sure they are consistent with your strategy. Go down to the trenches, back up your people with your presence in tough times.
5. Leverage your culture. When a group of people works together in an organization, they have the opportunity to manage "culture" through all of the above roles.

If your purpose is to "connect people to what's important in their lives through friendly, reliable and low cost air travel," and you believe that your employees must have a "warrior spirit, servant's heart and fun-LUVing attitude," then you are Southwest airlines!

If you want to provide "the best customer service possible" through employees that are "fun and a little weird, humble, passionate and determined," that do "more with less and deliver WOW through service," and "build open and honest relationships," with "a positive team and family spirit," then you are Zappos.com

You can identify Apple's, Google's or Facebook's culture in the same way. Understand these companies' purposes, values, strategic behaviors and given practices on communication and decision-making, and you'll understand their culture. And you can do the same with your own company.

Your culture has to be consistent with your brand and value proposition. Culture is the brand viewed and lived from the inside. Whatever your brand promises, your culture has to foster the appropriate behaviors to deliver those promises.

Where do we start? Here's the bad news: You can't fake it. Purposes, values, behavior, communication, etc. need to be authentic and come from deep inside you. So start with soul-searching, understanding who you are and what you want to be. That is why startups have such an advantage: Their culture mirrors the personality, values and dreams of their entrepreneurial founders!

So, how powerful is the culture for you and your organization? Are you actively leading it? Is it consistent with your brand? To help you develop your leadership skills, below you'll find five questions, one for each key role:

• What is your dream?
• Do you deeply and genuinely care for your people?
• Are you connected with your people?
• Are you empowering your team?
• Are you -- and your people -- proud, engaged and happy?