Forget for a moment about perks. Stocking the company fridge isn’t a bad thing. But a strong company culture—one that can compete for talent in a drum-tight labor market—starts not in the lunchroom but in the boardroom.

Unless you master this trait, all your other workplace-culture efforts will fall flat. But if you pick up this trait and run with it, all your other efforts will take on new strength. And so will you.

Quiz Time: “What We Have Here is Failure To…”

  1. Make work more like a pep rally
  2. Give out bigger bonus checks
  3. Solve the so-called millennial crisis
  4. Communicate

Yes. Most business owners and managers assume everyone on their team is operating under the same set of assumptions. Chances are excellent they are not.

Why is this important? According to Gallup, only 15% of employees worldwide and 35% in the U.S. are “engaged” in their work.

And while part of the solution is to help employees experience a sense of purpose, even that starts with gaining consensus on what the purpose is.

Get Clear on Your Purpose  

The late Nathaniel Branden, Ph.D. wrote about this in his book Taking Responsibility. One of his clients, the CEO of a mid-size firm, asked Branden to help him determine why his firm lacked accountability—and what could be done to fix it.

Branden suggested the CEO start by asking each senior manager to write a memo stating what exactly they believed they were responsible for and what they would like to be responsible for. Guess what surfaced?

Confusion. Gaps. Overlap.

Unbeknownst to one another, the managers were chasing different outcomes and leading their people to do the same. Imagine the frustration this caused—the wasted time and productivity. Imagine how happy this would have made the firm’s competitors.

Put another way, what is it costing you not to have this information? When it comes to moving company culture forward, clarity of purpose is the non-negotiable starting point.

3 Steps to Gain Clarity of Purpose

  1. Send a simple email to each of your senior managers. It might read something like this:Dear [First Name],

    As a first step toward creating a more engaging culture, I am asking you to send me a private, detailed response to the following questions:

    * What do you see as our company purpose?
    * Which parts of this purpose (and which outcomes) do you see yourself being responsible for?
    * Which areas of our purpose would you like to be responsible for?

Please have your responses to me by or before [approximately one week from current date]. In the meantime, please let me know if you have any questions about this request.

[Your First Name]

P.S. At some point we will discuss our collective answers as a group; however, for now, I’ll ask that you keep this discussion and your responses between the two of us.

  1. Set aside uninterrupted time to review all responses. What are the common themes? Where do you see clarity? Where do you see confusion?
  2. Schedule one-on-one and/or group meetings, based on the responses and your own best judgment. Do as much listening as you do talking. While a company might not be a democracy, everyone needs to feel heard and respected.

Is It Worth It? (Yes)

Start clearing up the confusion in your organization today—uncover the “stuck stress” hiding beneath the surface. Ask the tough questions, even if the answers seem obvious. Be willing to have tough conversations. The payoff will be worth it.

Having widespread clarity will speed up communication, strengthen accountability, and start to move the needle on morale—especially if team members feel appreciated. But that’s another topic for another day.

Speaker, trainer and coach, Gina DeLapa helps professional service firms, leaders individuals create cultures they can be excited about. Gina has successfully taught both the mindset and skillset of leadership and has inspired audiences nationwide. Twitter 

Happy company stock photo by GaudiLab/Shutterstock