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  • Jonno White

7 Keys to Building a Healthy Culture


I'm passionate about investing in people to become everything they're meant to be. That's why I believe so deeply in culture. Culture is particularly close to my heart at Clarity because we exist to fill the world with great organisations. And one of the traits of a great organisation is healthy culture. So, with that in mind, here are seven keys to building a healthy culture.

1. A healthy board.

It might not be the first thing that comes to mind, but a healthy board is so important for culture. If your company is part of a larger organisation, do you have appropriate representation on the board? Is the board led by a humble and capable chair with the wisdom to appoint the right board members and the courage to hold you accountable? Get this wrong at your peril. A company’s culture will only ever be as healthy as its board. Boards aren't there as an annoying necessity. Boards exist to govern and provide strategic direction. So, if I want to know if a large company’s culture is healthy, one of the first things I'll ask about is your board.

2. A healthy executive team.

Healthy culture starts at the top with the board and continues to the executive team. Excellent CEOs don't make healthy culture. CEOs with the wisdom and consistency to build a healthy executive team will in turn build a healthy culture. Is your organisation’s executive team diverse? Are the people on the team humble, hungry and people smart? Do they share the organisation’s vision and values? Is your executive team healthy enough to be able to have robust discussions? Do you communicate effectively as a team? Are you able to hold one another accountable for your behaviour as team members and leaders of your organisation? If you hesitate to answer any of those questions, then this is where to start. Healthy culture is led by healthy executive teams.

3. Vision clearly communicated, lived out and celebrated across your organisation.

Purpose. What's the purpose of your orgabisation? No, it's probably not "to make widgets." Your organisation is unique. It is! There is a unique history as to why and how it was founded. There is a unique purpose your company exists for. Even if you don't know it is, it's been there or is there informally. And every company needs a clear vision for the future. What problem are you trying to solve as an organisation? How are you the solution? Why is it so important?

If you can't define your organisation‘s vision, then do whatever you need to do in order to fix this. Then, cast vision again and again and again. Wondering why employees are tardy? Why your stakeholders aren’t engaged? Why your staff turnover is high? There could be many reasons. But, I'd suggest they'd ALL involve a lack of vision. Harsh, but true. Articulate your vision, communicate until people literally say, "Stop it, we get that the organisation’s vision is to 'x'" and then tell me how it's affected your company. (Hint: it will be a different place.)

4. Values that define you.

Okay, I hate to repeat myself. But your company is unique. If your values are, "Integrity, Respect, Teamwork, Community, Excellence, Innovation ..." then you've stolen everyone else’s values. Give them back and find your own. There are things unique to your company that already exist. Unfortunately, if they're not articulated then those things compete with every other value—good and bad—out there. People will come and go who epitomise your values (every now and then) and more often people will come ... and go who are the opposite of your values.

Can you think of someone who fits that description? You know how you celebrated when they finally left? Or how you pray they just would leave tomorrow? Well, articulating, living out and communicating your core values as an organisation is going to help you avoid hires like that, make way more hires who epitomise your values and help people who don't fit them to decide to get off the boat. Healthy culture means knowing the values that define you as an organisation, living them out and communicating them to staff, customers and the community.

5. I'm sorry, but (insert what your organisation does) just isn't most important.

Wow, I'm bold. I wonder how many people just closed the page when they read that sentence. If you're still reading, thank you! Companies are incredible. what your organisation does is vitally important. For some people, their skill is their thing. It's what they're strongest at and why they end up on the executive team and, even, CEO. But, when it comes to a healthy culture, if you're thinking, "If only we could improve (insert what your organisation does), I think we'd finally be healthy" then I'm sorry but I disagree.

What you do needs to well and truly come second. Second to what? To your people! No matter how great your products or services are, if you can't attract and retain amazing staff to build your company and look after your customers then what's the point? The other people who are more important than what you do are your customers. They simply have to come first. Nailing what you do is vital, but it's just not most important. Healthy culture means having this the right way around. Their people don't serve what they do. What they do serves their people.

6. Long-term strategic anchors, not short-term tactical micro-management.

"I know what I'll do to make my culture healthy ... I'll just keep an eye on everything." Lol. Sorry, but that's never worked for anyone. The great thing about micromanagement is the leader gets really tired and the person being micromanaged gets super frustrated and often leaves. Wait ... that's not good at all. If you are struggling to get everyone on your team at your company rowing in the same direction, the answer isn't micromanagement. Without going into too much depth on this, you need to manage your people based on your unique core values. Micromanage behaviour yes. Go big on those core values and your vision. Celebrate them, pull people up in private when they violate them. Make mention of people in public when they live out your vision and values and, in appropriate settings such as executive team meetings, create an atmosphere where people can candidly hold one another accountable to the vision and values.

For everything else—all tasks in your organisation—empower people by articulating and communicating three strategic anchors for your organisation rather than telling them how to do everything. Make the strategies long-term and treat people like they're smart, because they probably are. Then, you'll find the wrong people will get frustrated and leave and the right people will flourish and do things differently than you expect and better than you expect. Healthy culture is led by leaders who don't micromanage. Instead, they set clear vision, values and long-term strategic anchors so everyone understands the bigger picture and inflexible 'how' of your company and feels free to go and implement those things the best way they know how.

7. People, people, people.

I just wanted to finish here because I think it's such an important key for culture. What is life all about? People! People are super, extraordinarily important and so they should be treated as such by their leaders. Prioritising people doesn't mean being nice to everyone. It can mean having that crucial conversation with one of your team because all the other team members have started resenting you for letting them get away with anything they want to. Your vision? It's not to make the most money in your city (well, that’s nice but it’s not usually vision). Your vision will be people-related. And everything else you do as a leader should—to put it simply—prioritise people first and let everything else flow from there. If there's one thing you can do as a leader to start moving culture in the right direction, it's to ask yourself, "How well do we prioritise our people? Our employees? Our customers? Our community?"

Your greatest asset as an organisation is not a building. Your people are your greatest asset.

Four meetings to set your organisation on fire

Five questions to get your people rowing in the same direction

Five dysfunctions of a team powerpoint

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