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Mar 26, 2014

Jim Collins said that “a culture of discipline is not a principle of business; it is a principle of greatness.”

Those words might resonate with many leaders who are feeling frustrated about aspects of accountability, attention to detail, collaboration, or some other area in their organization. The reality is that discipline must start with the habits, routines, and rigor of leadership.

Therefore, the big question is, “what are the approaches that will set the tone for a deeper culture of discipline?”

Discipline starts at the top

Many leaders jump to conclusions about the source of potential cultural problems or frustrations in their organization.

A good example is accountability. While a leader might be frustrated with the lack of follow-up, proactive action, and attention to detail of their employees, those same employees are often complaining about a lack of clear priorities, expectations, and support.

I regularly ask top leaders to identify their top frustration or challenge with how their team works together that they believe is holding back performance. Accountability is typically the top response, but it’s closely followed by challenges related to collaboration, teamwork, innovation and creativity.

After deeper discussion, in nearly every instance, the issue was not accountability, teamwork or creativity, but a lack of discipline at the top of the organization. It didn’t matter if it was a large global organization or a small business, the lack of consistent habits and rigor was clearly impacting performance.

These same organizations often try everything from performance management systems to training, coaching and other approaches to deal with the symptoms, rather than the root cause.

The answer starts with building discipline in the culture foundation of the organization. The following checklist can be used as a guide to assess the culture foundation:

Culture Core – your purpose and values

  • The purpose and/or mission is clearly documented and consistently shared.
  • Values are documented and further clarified with expected behaviors captured in stories, definitions, or examples.

Priorities and measures

  • The top leader has clarified the top performance priorities and their vision for the focus of any improvement necessary (Note: John Kotter highlighted that most leaders under communicate their change vision by a factor of 10, 100 or even 1000 times).
  • The strategy of the organization is documented.
  • The general strategy is communicated clearly to the organization with explanation of supporting strategic priorities (areas of focus).
  • Top leaders use a consistent approach to engage the organization in defining the goals and related improvements that support the strategy.
  • Goals or objectives are clearly documented and rigorously tracked in a standard format.
  • Leading and lagging measures are defined.
  • Standard formats are used for at least a sub-set of the measures,

Daily management

  • A regular management meeting (staff meeting, leadership team meeting, etc.) is held to track the status of goals and measures.
  • A standard agenda framework is followed for management meetings.
  • Actions are captured and tracked from management meetings.
  • Top leaders “confront reality” and surface difficult issues for resolution during management meetings
  • Regularly scheduled group communication meetings, webcasts, or other approaches are consistently maintained.
  • A standard agenda framework is used for regularly scheduled communication activities.
  • Top leaders periodically check with individuals and sub-groups before, during, and after communication activities to confirm and/or improve clarity.
  • Top leaders surface drama, rumors, and the most serious concerns for open discussion in communication activities.
  • There is accountability among top leaders for making and meeting commitments related to goals and measures.
  • A disciplined process to hire for competence and cultural fit is rigorously followed.

Is this a fit for your organization?

“Checking off” or resolving the above items is a great start to the process of building a true culture of discipline.

This foundation of discipline often helps position organizations to meet many challenges that go beyond behavior issues like accountability or other areas. Top leaders end up being amazed at just how accountable, collaborative or creative their team actually has the capability of being once they build a strong foundation of discipline.

This type of discipline may not be a fit for your organization, but consider it before jumping to conclusions about a deeper culture problem that really isn’t a culture problem at all.

Do you agree that the lack of discipline is often the root cause behind culture problems? What are other approaches to build a culture discipline?

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