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Code of Conduct: Upgrade the Behaviors that Shape Your Company Culture

By Candace Coleman, CultureWise Content Manager

It’s hard to find a business-related article that doesn’t tie into workplace culture. The topic gained momentum in the early part of the millennium and took on new dimensions as companies coped with the pandemic.

Leaders across all industries now recognize the significance of corporate culture and how it impacts their level of success. But despite the increasing focus on its importance, confusion lingers about managing this vital business area.  

One of the buzzwords frequently cited in corporate culture literature is “behaviors.” Most CEOs who have researched the topic understand that their staff’s everyday conduct forms their organization’s culture—not workplace embellishments like beanbag chairs and pizza parties.

But these leaders are less clear about how to channel people’s behaviors to enhance everyone’s work experiences and improve their companies.

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Can People’s Behaviors Change?

Some CEOs subscribe to the notion that their employees’ behaviors are fixed—a result of upbringing, past experiences, and their inherent nature. Consequently, they try to shape their company culture around the prevailing behaviors. And they use tools to diagnose personalities in the hiring process to determine whether job seekers are good or bad fits.

But these measures don’t take into account two major factors:

  • Personalities aren’t clear indicators of behavior
  • If properly motivated, people can and will change their behavior

As Jay Johnson, Coeus Creative Group CEO and noted speaker specializing in behavior and organizational development, points out in Forbes:

“From a business standpoint, we often see people through a flawed ideological framework. We assume that people are bound by their ‘stripes,’ forgetting that people have a choice in how they behave. This is evident in the way businesses attempt to engage, influence and develop their employees, managers and even customers.”

Keeping in mind that behavior results from a series of choices, leaders should realign their focus on behavior and recalculate their approach to building company culture. 

Johnson recommends that leaders seek a deeper comprehension of the behavioral elements they want to see and dedicate resources for training and developing positive traits. Harnessing this knowledge will not only help hiring managers find coachable recruits. Doing so will also help leaders transform the existing staff’s acceptable baseline conduct into winning behaviors. And he notes:

“Businesses that focus on the challenging work of understanding behavior will emerge with a competitive advantage in the post-pandemic marketplace.”

The key behaviors that leaders succeed in embedding into their culture will forecast their company’s destiny.

Motivating People to Change Behavior

As noted above, employees will choose to change their conduct if they’re properly motivated. Without that motivation, they have no real incentive to alter the way they approach their work. And that kind of behavioral inertia paves the way for a default culture to take hold, possibly one rife with poor conduct.

CEOs who want to improve their company’s culture must set the stage to inspire their employees to get on board. They should begin by taking steps to strengthen employee engagement, which is the personal connection staff members feel to the company. There are several ways leaders can develop this alignment:

  1. Reinforce employees’ value to the organization.

People crave a sense of purpose; they want to know that their work matters. So leaders should explain and reiterate to employees how their roles impact the organization, beginning with onboarding practices and continuing with mentoring, coaching, and performance reviews.

If CEOs want to incentivize people to improve their behavior, they need to help them understand how their jobs fit into the big picture. And they should explain why they’re instrumental in achieving company goals.

  1. Lead by example.

Employees are far more inclined to alter their behavior if they witness leadership modeling the conduct they’re promoting. Before a CEO rolls out a program to upgrade behaviors, they must personally commit to rigorously uphold them and make their managers accountable for doing the same.

People have more confidence in their leaders when they hold themselves to the same standards they ask of others. When leaders “walk the talk,” they create an environment of trust that makes employees much more receptive to new ideas and initiatives.

  1. Instill a sense of belonging.

Along with understanding their value to the organization, people want to feel connected to their coworkers. And with the increasing number of remote workers in many companies, helping employees feel a sense of belonging is more challenging than ever before.

Leaders who find ways to support camaraderie, facilitate communication, and help employees develop strong professional relationships will build a cohesive team—whether they work on-site or remotely. And positive peer pressure is instrumental in transforming behaviors in the workplace.

  1. Provide meaningful appreciation.

Before implementing a culture initiative, leaders should create a system to acknowledge employees who make strides. People appreciate being recognized for their successes and will try even harder to maintain good habits.

Leaders should identify means to communicate acknowledgment, whether one-on-one, in a group, or company-wide, and then promote meaningful appreciation as one of the company’s key behaviors. To be most effective, recognition should be timely, specific, and include how a person’s actions made a difference.

Leaders who take these measures to fortify employee engagement create a smooth runway for a culture initiative to succeed.  And ultimately, an improvement in the culture will further deepen workers’ commitment to the company.

How to Change Workplace Behaviors

Behaviors are the essence of culture, but author and Red Hat CEO Jim Whitehurst makes an important distinction about the relationship between the two in Harvard Business Review:

“Culture is learned behavior — it’s not a by-product of operations. It’s not an overlay. We create our organizational culture by the actions we take; not the other way around.”

Orchestrating the preferred behavioral standards in a business environment is more challenging than setting up operations. And to engrain them into a workforce, leaders can’t merely lay them out and then expect the culture to operate on autopilot. It’s a fluid and ongoing undertaking—which is why many companies fall short of their goals in this area.

As Whitehurst explains:

“It’s not easy to change a culture, because it involves changing how we behave. If you’re running a company that has been doing something a certain way for a long time, it can be hard to get everyone on board with doing it differently.”

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Establishing a Process

CultureWise CEO David J. Friedman analyzed and honed a method to develop high-performing culture throughout his decades-long career as a business owner. He realized that while most CEOs were systematic and plan-oriented about perfecting every other aspect of their company, it never occurred to most of them to apply the same approach to developing their culture.

But to successfully transform existing behaviors and get new employees on board with these standards, leaders need to create a strategy and adhere to a process. As Friedman notes:

“Just as we have operating systems for production, distribution, sales, and finance, we should have an operating system for our culture. We can and should be intentional about creating and driving the culture we want.”

In Culture by Design, Friedman outlines his process for building a culture based on a foundation of conduct that generates the best outcomes. His framework includes eight steps, and the first two bracket establishing and practicing the right behaviors:

  1. Define the employee behaviors that drive your success
  2. Ritualize the practice of these behaviors
Defining Behaviors

Employees want and need their leaders to set clear expectations. This includes creating a universal understanding of how staff members should tend to their work, collaborate, and interact with the public. Defining behaviors goes far beyond explaining a company’s core values. It involves drilling down to the types of conduct that demonstrate those values in action when they’re performed consistently.

To reinforce an individual’s work ethic, they might identify and describe behaviors such as:

  • Honoring commitments
  • Demonstrating a passion for excellence
  • Taking ownership and delivering results

To underscore habits that promote teamwork, leaders might choose to prioritize behaviors like:

  • Freely sharing information
  • Setting aside egos
  • Embracing diverse perspectives

And to generate exceptional service, they could clarify what it looks like to:

  • Walk in the customer’s shoes
  • Go the extra mile
  • Create win-win solutions
Ritualizing Behaviors

Once CEOs have capsulized and fully described these aspirational behaviors, they need to encourage their people to practice them, so they’ll sink in. Regardless of how good these behaviors sound in theory, they’re meaningless unless routinely executed. Friedman advises leaders to build rituals into the workday that reinforce the culture they want to create. As he explains in the book,

“Humans are notorious for initiating new things and then not following through. Rituals are what help us to stick with things when we wouldn’t normally have the motivation or discipline to do them ourselves.”

Friedman recommends focusing on one behavior per week to maximize absorption. Two of the rituals he has incorporated into his own companies and teaches to other business leaders are:

  1. Creating a “Weekly Insight”

This ritual involves writing a short reflection about the meaning of the behavior in focus that week. The CEO should kick off this exercise and then rotate the responsibility among all team members. The insights might include personal stories or recent work examples that illustrate the writer’s perspective about the behavior.

They are distributed to all team members and can be delivered via email, voice mail, or even informal videos. Some companies, like CultureWise, make it a component of their coaching app. Friedman suggests sending it out on Monday mornings to set the tone for everyone’s week.

  1. Leveraging the first agenda item in meetings

It’s crucial for leaders to discuss prioritized behaviors when specific situations arise. But it’s also important to have regular discussions about the behaviors to keep them at the forefront of everyone’s minds.

With that in mind, Friedman recommends that every meeting—from formal board room sessions to team huddles on the warehouse floor—begin with a brief discussion of the highlighted behavior of the week. Meeting leaders can engage participants by asking a few questions to get the dialogue started.

Friedman observed that these discussions almost always help people see new perspectives on the behavior and notice different ways to apply it to their work. And by shifting their teaching from “episodic” to “systematic,” leaders aren’t waiting for an applicable incident to arise. Instead, they are routinely talking about the behavior throughout the week.

These rituals encourage buy-in from team members because everyone is involved. Leaders can implement them along with other experiential learning opportunities, regular mentoring and feedback, and reinforcement through company messaging. With consistent practice, rituals like these will help weave preferred behaviors into the culture.

Focus on Behaviors to Improve Your Culture

Developing a dynamic culture is the best way to stand out in today’s hypercompetitive marketplace. As Terry Bacon and David Pugh wrote in Winning Behavior, “The race will not be won by the swiftest or the strongest. It will be won by the smartest—and being smart in business today means knowing how your behavior, across the spectrum of your people, can differentiate you from your competitors.”

David Friedman created the CultureWise system to supply leaders with the format and tools to drive behavioral change. It is a practical and sustainable method to create a supportive, high-performing culture, and it is available in two editions to suit any budget. To learn how CultureWise can help transform your business, book a call with a CultureWise representative.

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