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Create an inspiring workplace with an organizational constitution

4 min read


How well does your team or organization operate today? Are performance targets met or exceeded regularly? And, at the same time, do leaders and staff treat each other and customers with honor and respect during every interaction?

Recently, a client asked me to help them with their corporate culture. This manufacturing facility is very successful (i.e., they’re making very good profits) from a dedicated core of long-time customers. The problem? Theirs is a painful organization to live in every day.

Their organic growth has stretched informal systems to the limit. 75% of their orders come in from couriers, not from clients, which requires detective work to establish exactly who ordered what. Production for common solutions works great, but over 50% of their orders are custom. Exceptions to standard production processes mean extra time, mistakes more often than not, and increased stress for everyone that touches that order.

Worse, the stress plays out in the form of anger and frustration with work peers. Members of the senior leadership team resolve issues by arguing (and cursing each other) in the office, in full view of over 40 staff members. These arguments happen multiple times a week.

This company defined their values a few years ago but does not hold leaders or staff accountable to living those values. So, anything goes, behavior-wise.

Though profitable, this is a not-fun place to work.

I know the owners of this small company did not intend to create a frustrating workplace. The reality is, though, that they have. They don’t know what to do to fix it, so have asked for my help.

Let’s be clear: profits are a good thing. To be viable, organizations must make money. And, profits alone do not a great company make!

High performing, values-aligned organization are profitable and inspiring places to work for employees.

These companies do exist! Check out the Fortune 100 Best Companies to Work For in 2013 for examples. Many other “top workplaces” lists highlight successful and inspiring organizations (here’s a link to Denver‘s).

To create a safe, inspiring workplace, senior leaders must be bold about both performance expectations and values expectations. One way to do this is to craft an organizational constitution.

Modeled after historical charters (like the Magna Carta or the U.S. Constitution), an organizational constitution clearly describes what a good job looks like for leaders and staff. It outlines the organization’s purpose, values, strategies, and goals.

Purpose is the organization’s current-day “reason for being.” What products and services does the organization produce, and for who? The vital question regarding purpose: “To what end?” How does the company’s products and services help customers?

Values define expected corporate citizenship. Lofty terms like “integrity” or “honesty” must be defined in tangible, observable behaviors. These behaviors become the “interaction standards” for relationships and treatment with bosses, peers, direct reports, and customers.

By making values measurable — and then by measuring them regularly — the organization can assess values alignment as easily as it assesses performance traction. Values accountability is much easier when employees rate bosses and peers on the “degree to which they demonstrate our valued behaviors.”

Purpose and values elements are “cast in stone.” They don’t change much over time (maybe a few refinements and tweaks). They remain the basic foundation of the organization’s culture.

Strategies and goals evolve as your company’s marketplace and customer expectations evolve. They are like amendments to the Constitution — refinements of strategy and goals formalize efforts to take advantage of opportunities today.

If your organization’s work environment isn’t always safe and inspiring, consider a new foundation: an organizational constitution.

What values are in place in your organization today? Do they help, hinder, or hurt company performance and employee engagement? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.

ORGANIZATIONAL CULTURE SURVEY: What is it like to work in your company culture? Contribute your experiences in my fast, free Performance-Values Assessment. Results and analysis are available on the research page of my blog site: Driving Results Through Culture.

Podcast – Listen to this post now with the player below. Subscribe to my podcasts via RSS or iTunes. The music heard on these podcasts is from one of my songs, “Heartfelt,” copyright © Chris Edmonds Music (ASCAP). I play all instruments on these recordings.

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