Company Culture Is an Inside-Out Job: Why Your Culture’s Strength and Well-Being Start With You

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In my work in leadership and culture, I find people often think that culture is created “out there.” They view culture as something outside of themselves over which they have no control. For many, culture is something to be fixed, something that makes people quit or convinces them to stay, and even something that can be improved with foosball tables, free meals, and karaoke Tuesdays.

While these perks are lovely and can make a culture more pleasurable to be part of, two things must be noted here. First, an authentically healthy culture is not created through stuff or even through cultural initiatives. Rather, it is created through the intangibles, the soft stuff, like how people feel. Second, culture is not created “out there” by everyone else — it’s created “in here” within ourselves first. Creating culture is an inside-out job.

These concepts may already be familiar to you. Perhaps you know of organizations that have all the perks and even line their walls with their organizational values, but their cultures are not great; it doesn’t feel life-giving to be there. You may also know of organizations that have few perks and values that are not formally fleshed out, but it feels great to be there.

What’s the difference between these cultures? In my experience, it’s threefold:

  1. How each individual shows up: In a healthy culture, people own the culture and make it what they want it to be. They show up in a way that models the behaviors and ways of being that will create a strong culture.
  2. What people focus on: In a healthy culture, people focus on purpose; impact; and being in service of each other, the organization, and the work they’re doing.
  3. Frameworks, agreements, and structures: Structures are in place to support a healthy culture and to allow employees to do their best work together.

Everything on top of these three factors — perks, initiatives, beer pong nights — is gravy.

How to Create a Healthy Culture in Your Workplace

The first step in creating a healthy culture is to realize that you are the culture — you set the tone. How you walk into a room is the culture. The energy you bring to any conversation is the culture. The way you talk about culture is the culture. How you request or complain, show up present or brag busy, lead or abdicate, take ownership or blame — whatever you do and are is the culture.

Once we really understand that we create the culture in how we show up and in the intentions, energy, and presence we bring with ourselves, we can better influence the culture instead of falling victim to it. At the very least, we can take care of ourselves so we don’t get clobbered by toxicity if the culture is not great.

We can’t control what happens around us, what anyone else does, or whether people decide to be positively contagious or not, but we can control ourselves, the choices we make in how we show up, how we take care of ourselves in this scenario, and how we choose to be contagious for good or bad.

We can also support ourselves and our teams with agreements, structures, and frameworks that set us up for success in our work together. In my book, Contagious Culture: Show Up, Set the Tone, and Intentionally Create an Organization That Thrives, I share what I call the “Super Seven of Cultural Health.” I encourage any team looking to build a healthy culture to explore these factors together:

  1. Does our organization have shared values, a clear vision, and a meaningful sense of purpose? Are these things understood, life-giving, and inspiring to the people we work with?
  2. Do we all share the intention of contribution and service when working with each other? Do we prioritize contribution and service over looking good, getting it “right,” playing it safe, or getting ahead?
  3. Do we create an environment where it is safe to show up, speak the truth, and take risks with each other? You can’t have optimal collaboration, creativity, or realness without safety and truth. Of course, you are your best bet in bringing safety and truth to the environment. It starts with you! (Psst, these all do!)
  4. Do we come from a place of curiosity and vulnerability with each other? Can we hold space for curiosity and vulnerability, or do we shy away from it, make it wrong, or shut it down entirely? Genuine curiosity creates more safety, connection, and space for vulnerability. Vulnerability creates more space for connection, curiosity, and even more vulnerability. It’s a virtuous cycle.
  5. Do we practice accountability and ownership together? You have more space to focus on the right things — and less time for confusion and drama — when you own mistakes, share wins and outcomes, have clear accountability in roles, create collaborative agreements for how you’ll work together, and are accountable for what you each bring to the table.
  6. Is our organization clear on what “reciprocity” means, and do we practice it ourselves? Reciprocity is the art of giving and receiving. There is “personal reciprocity” — making sure I give to myself and take care of myself. There is “collaborative reciprocity” — being clear about what my team, family, friends, etc., can count on me for and what I can count on from them. Finally, there is “organizational reciprocity” — what I contribute to the organization and what the organization gives me in return.
  7. Does the way we measure and reward in our organization help us cultivate the culture we want to have? Do we have conscious measurements and rewards to reinforce the right kind of growth and behaviors and to demonstrate that we value honoring people? For example, do our current evaluation and measurement systems create collaboration or competition? Do they foster risk-taking and truth-telling, or do they make people careful in covering their own backs and withholding information from their peers so they can be seen as more valuable or mistake-free?

Any of these seven factors can change your culture game. Of course, each and every one of them starts with you. Which of these feel the most useful to you right now? Go there.

Anese Cavanaugh is the creator of the IEP Method (Intentional Energetic Presence), an advisor and thinking partner to leaders and organizations around the world, and author of Contagious Culture: Show Up, Set the Tone, and Intentionally Create an Organization That Thrives. Her next book, Contagious You: Unlock Your Incredible Power to Influence, Lead, and Create the Impact You Want, arrives in November 2019.

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Why Mentoring Is the Key to Achieving Your Career Goals

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Earlier in my career, I asked myself, “What am I doing that is getting in the way of me reaching my goal as a leader?” I posed that question to a colleague I respected, who responded, “Have you ever asked anyone for help?” That simple question made a huge impact on me.

Even if you’ve never been involved in a formal mentoring program, you’ve had mentors along the way. A teacher, a colleague, a boss, a friend with a particular experience or skill set: All of these people can act as mentors, guiding you along your journey to reach your goal.

When you set out to achieve career success, finding a mentor is critical to your personal development. However, it can seem like a daunting task. Where do you start? What do you ask? Who qualifies for such a role?

Here’s the secret: The whole process of mentoring is actually much easier than you think.

The Importance of Mentoring — on Both Sides

Mentoring impacted me, and not only from a career standpoint. Mentoring has led to different behavior in my personal life. The more you are mentored, the more you realize there is equal value in serving as a mentor yourself.

Mentoring — both for the mentor and for the one who is mentored — engages us on a human level. It addresses two separate but often intertwined human urges: the drive to get better and the desire to help others.

As we look up to others for guidance, we should also be looking below and sideways to provide guidance ourselves. It is not only good for the soul to do this, but there is also a practical side: The people you mentor will eventually advance and become good industry contacts.

8 Ways to Make the Most of Mentoring

Here are some things I have learned about mentoring — some I learned while being mentored, and some I learned as a mentor:

1. Mentoring Can Be Both Formal and Informal

There are many fine, formal mentoring programs organized by companies and professional societies, but there are also informal opportunities that can be of equal and perhaps even greater value.

Maybe there is someone who has a skill or capability you admire. Consider asking them if they have time for a meeting over coffee. Then, ask them about their career path — what worked for them, what didn’t, and whether they have recommendations they would make to someone who is developing in their own career.

I’m not sure if my informal mentors knew they were mentors to me, but I appreciated their time and wisdom, and I learned a lot by connecting informally, listening to their stories, and soliciting their advice.

2. Be Clear on Your Mentoring Goals

Know what you’d like to learn from a mentor, whether it’s how to influence others, how to present new ideas or concepts, or something else entirely. Share your goals with your mentor so they know how to help you reach them. In most formal mentoring relationships, the goals you want to achieve should be clear so progress can be measured along the way.

3. Learn From Negative Examples

You can learn from anyone — even people you didn’t really like working for or alongside. In fact, these negative examples can teach you a lot about the professional and personal pitfalls to avoid in life. Seeing and experiencing things I didn’t like made me think about the behaviors I didn’t want to exhibit as a leader.

4. Look for Opportunities to Be a Mentor Yourself

Mentoring doesn’t always come by looking up in an organization. Don’t look up all the time! Look down and sideways, too.

Opportunities to mentor others can come from being a resource to new employees joining the organization. We have all been in that situation, and most of us would have appreciated having a buddy to help us navigate a new company or role. Your helpfulness will be returned many times over.

5. Confidentially Is Key

Confidentiality is an essential component of mentoring, and that may mean that you will need to seek a mentor outside of your immediate chain of command. The mentor/mentee relationship should be a safe space, a circle of trust.

There is another benefit to having a mentor outside your reporting chain, too: They may be able to share what they know about you with other people in the organization. It’s great to have advocates across the organization who can speak highly of you and your accomplishments.

6. Trust Your Advocates

As indicated above, a mentor can talk on your behalf. As one mentor put it to me, it’s a matter of “building your fan club.” Bosses appreciate hearing positive feedback about you from others.

7. Don’t Be Afraid to Ask Someone to Be Your Mentor

Even if it’s someone at a senior level. Senior-level people are easier to reach for help than you might think. You may not find them available at your company, but they can be found informally in your social circles and community life.

Every senior-level person with whom I have spoken has told me getting to where they are was never easy. Most have had their setbacks along the way, and they can share with you how they bounced back in the face of adversity.

8. Be Open to Listening

Again, mentors can be found anywhere. Once you have found one, you have to listen to what they have to say.

I could go on and on, but let me stop myself and end on this final note: A mentor can provide a fresh perspective; they can point out new things you hadn’t considered before. Being a mentor or a mentee puts you in a position to teach and communicate, which makes you a better professional.

So go ahead. Get mentored, and become one yourself. It will be a game-changer in your life.

Cheryl Middleton Jones is chief people officer for CO-OP Financial Services.

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Even Entrepreneurs Need Performance Reviews: 5 Tips for Conducting a Self-Evaluation as an Independent Professional

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Performance reviews are a useful way for managers to evaluate employee achievement, growth, and goals. While this process may typically be associated with a traditional work arrangement, that doesn’t mean self-employed business owners or freelancers can’t reap the benefits for themselves. Self-evaluation is important for both personal and professional growth, and this valuable tool can even help you figure out how to best move your business forward.

One of the benefits of being self-employed is getting to be your own boss, but without goals in place, it can be hard evaluate the health of your business. Everyone has weaknesses they can improve and strengths they can capitalize on. Taking time to conduct a self-evaluation and objectively assess your progress can better position you for success both today and in the future.

Here are five tips to help you get the most out of your next self-review:

1. Get in the Habit of Compiling Information About Your Business

In a typical performance review, an employee receives prompts from their manager to start a dialogue about the progress they’ve made over the past year. When you’re evaluating yourself, it’s up to you to start that conversation.

In order to give yourself a review that is objective, efficient, and beneficial, start by gathering data. Take a look at the most recent copy of your business plan. If you don’t have one, write down your annual goals or other success measures that are meaningful to your business. You will also want to compile major financial information, including data about your budget, as well as feedback from your clients. This feedback may take the form of formal reviews, notes from conversations, or even social media comments. Finally, if you have conducted self-evaluations in the past, gather copies of those evaluations.

2. Set Clear, Measurable Goals

A self-evaluation should walk through the goals or objectives you have previously set for your business. Ideally, these goals should be quantifiable and measurable. For example, “Grow my client base” is a little vague, whereas “Gain three new clients each quarter” is more specific and easier to evaluate.

Whenever possible, break your goals down into increments and assign a level of success to each one. For example, if your goal were “Gain three new clients each quarter,” gaining one new client might be “adequate,” two new clients might be “good,” and three new clients might be “excellent.” The more quantifiable and measurable your goals are, the easier time you will have conducting an objective self-analysis.

3. Be Honest About Your Progress

Throughout the year, make a conscious effort to keep thorough records of anything that documents your achievements, relates to goals you’ve set, or corresponds with major changes you make to your business. Having documentation readily available will mitigate any inclination to overestimate your success or be too hard on yourself.

As you conduct your self-evaluation, consider how well you’ve done in terms of meeting each of your goals. Take note of what went well and how you might be able to build on these successes. Review your work with a critical eye: Where did you come up short? Looking back, was there a better way you could’ve solved a problem or handled a difficult situation?

4. Keep an Eye on the Future

Recognize your flaws as learning opportunities. By being open to change, you can consistently improve your performance and prevent stagnation. As you conduct your review, think about the best way to grow and develop for the future. Strive for objectivity. Doing so will help you target areas that truly need improvement and recognize your successful efforts so you can use your strengths to your advantage.

5. Document Achievements and Challenges

Creating a way to document and track your self-evaluations will help make you more accountable to yourself. As a result, you’ll be more likely to conduct your self-evaluations regularly, and your documentation will allow you to easily compare year-over-year reviews.

Track major achievements and what you did to make the most of these wins. Also track your major challenges and what you did to overcome them. How did your plan work out? In hindsight, is there anything you wish you had done differently? Collect and organize your thoughts in a central location. This will serve as a valuable reference point for when you need guidance.

Taking the time to conduct a self-evaluation is an important part of being a self-employed professional. Reflecting, analyzing, and critiquing your results shows commitment to your business, ensures you remain fulfilled in your path, and paves a concrete way toward achieving your goals.

Bryan Pena is senior vice president of MBO Partners.

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