Consciously Building a Positive Culture

Fortune Magazine lists the best 100 best places to work. For the second year in a row Google has been named number one. Travis Bradberry writes that Google has a number of progressive human practices but there is one that particularly stands out.

For a long time research has shown that people do not quit companies they quit bosses. The ability of managers to effectively lead other people is crucial, yet legions of managers are ineffective at it. Organizations act as if there is nothing that can be done. Leadership is a reflection of human nature and human nature cannot be changed. Google does not buy this conventional assumption.

Google seeks to turn every manager into an effective leader of people. They have done extensive analysis of what leadership characteristics lead to success at Google. With the criteria in mind, they train people to lead. They then measure performance on the criteria and look for continuous improvement. This means they are not only training people, they are also building a positive culture centered on the expectation that everyone can be a great leader. The result is a company full of teams in which people produce great results while personally flourishing at work.

Two things strike me about this account. First positive organizations can be created. Google is not on top of the list by accident. A positive company is seriously invested in creating a positive culture. It does things others will not do.   Second, leadership can be taught, measured and improved. While other organizations make superficial efforts, Google shows a deep commitment. The results demonstrate that a culture of positive leadership can be created.

People respect Google as an organization, and desire to imitate their success.  We see this in articles about their culture that are focused on their great cafeteria and free lunches, on free rides to work and free massages.  We see companies willing to follow their lead with foosball tables and dry cleaning on campus.  This kind of change is good but cosmetic.  Real culture change means changing the underlying assumptions on how to operate together.  It is reflected in the willingness of Google to hold leaders to the highest standards.

It is understandable that other companies copy the cosmetics.  It is understandable that they do not copy the deep change efforts.  The first is easy.  The second requires courage and commitment.

Let’s think about all this from an alternative perspective.  In medicine doctors are sued for malpractice. Given what we know from research, I would suggest that most companies are guilty of malpractice.  If managers have teams of people who are not flourishing and exceeding expectations, if people leave because they have a toxic boss, it is a sure sign that senior executives are unaware, uncommitted or both. While they are not currently sued for their failure, a price is being paid. It is time for every organization to consciously build a positive culture.

Have I ever seen a toxic boss?
What would it be like to work in an organization without toxic bosses?
How could we use this passage to create a more positive organization?

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