Building a Winning Culture – 7 Steps

Culture matters.  Culture and climate are interdependent, but quite different.  My Superintendent often says that culture is “the way we do things around here” and climate is “the way we feel about it”.  A winning culture impacts every aspect of the organization.  Employees are happier and more committed, students achieve at higher levels, and communities benefit.  My job as a school leader has included an array of successes and failures leading to some degree of insight on this important topic.  I’ve discoverd the following seven steps for building a winning culture.

1. Prioritize People

There is no greater asset than your people.  They are not a means to an end or a resource to be consumed.  Hire the best and work to keep them motivated and on your team.  The best people want opportunities to grow.  Know their goals and provide opportunities to advance even when you don’t reap the benefit.  You’ll gain a reputation for development and reap the reward.  Furthermore, swiftly act to remove under performing employees.  This will actually help culture as your high performers will appreciate accountability. 

2. Give Credit & Accept Blame

Nobody likes the working Ina place where their superiors take credit for their accomplishments.  Praise the team for the wins and take it on the chin for the failures.  The buck does in fact stop with you.

3. Codify Goals, Processes, & Expectations

You shouldn’t have to start over when a key employee leaves unexpectadely.  Write down your goals, your processes, ans expectations so your future success isn’t left to chance.

4. Build Capacity

You can’t fix everything by yourself.  You need people and many times don’t have enough help at the beginning to accomplish your goals.  Hire great people when vacancies arise and find employees in the organization that can be held up as models.  Know the goals of your employees and look for latent capacity in every employee.  Great organizations build internal pipelines with robust training systems that elevate the best and expose underperformance.  

5. Encourage Risk Taking & Allow Failure

Great wins never happen without the risk of failure.  Communicate that you will have their back when an idea doesn’t pan out.  Put your money where your mouth is and publicly recognize those who take risks regardless of he outcome.  Don’t be afraid to allow pilot programs where you can measure the results of innovative ideas in a non-threatening way.  Failure is the quickest route to success.

6. Be Honest

Say what you mean and mean what you say.  Nobody gets better from feedback you are too afraid to give.  Leadership is lonely.  Cultivate opportunities for your employees to be brutally honest.  This is difficult and can hurt, but it is worth it.  I offer opportunities to speak with every employee at least once per year and encourage them to be brutally honest about what isn’t working.  The insight I gain is worth it even when the conversation hurts.

7. Keep Listening

Continue listening even when you think you understand the problem or situation.  The actual problem may not be as we perceive it.  It is critically important that we continue creating opportunities for dialogue with students, staff, and our school community.  People like to feel heard even when they know you don’t have the answer.


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