In earlier articles, I discussed the difference between a corporate playbook and a corporate handbook, as well as how to define and articulate your company’s culture in order to attract and retain like-minded people. But nurturing a meaningful, respectful and rewarding work environment can’t end there. It’s important to put the ‘personification’ of your corporate culture — the corporate playbook — into action.
In order to make the playbook a living corporate road map, senior management should set the direction, allow the employees and their own actions to speak for themselves and embrace diversity and the unique skill-sets each team member brings to the table.
Allow Actions To Speak Louder Than Words
In a Wall Street Journal article (paywall), former IBM CEO Lou Gerstner said that establishing a corporate culture is not enough: “People do not do what you expect but what you inspect.”
The playbook can be exponentially impactful in setting the stage for management to inspect if it sets out the what, why, and how. The playbook should serve as the bridge between core values, corporate objectives and employees at every level and should unify through common goals. It should help each employee understand not only job responsibilities and how to operate within the team (the ‘what to do’) but also how it all relates to the bigger picture — why the job matters.
Trying to ensure alignment between what’s inspected, what’s expected and core values can be challenging. You should make sure employees understand how their actions affect one another and how to operate as a team with the expectation that the company respects its employees and that employees treat everyone else with respect as well.
Part of our management team has worked together for 16 years, and we still need to regularly validate our expectations and validate what we’re doing. Our playbook puts value on communication. I recently had a long conversation with a team member in which we talked about our views and visions for the year. We had assumed some of the things we discussed but hadn’t articulated them before, and talking about these things gave a lot more power to both of us simply because we talked about them. We didn’t just assume we were on the same page — we acted on our value of communication.
To succeed, companies should spend more time identifying how to measure people’s performance and personal goals so that they sync with corporate goals and become part of the culture. From management on down, people should know they are responsible for getting things done a certain way — that they are being held accountable and that they will be rewarded when they deliver.
Your playbook should explain the methodology by which you can inspect an employee’s work. Don’t just base it on a one-to-five ranking of how an employee achieved their goals and objectives in a given year. You want to have people inspired to operate outside their comfort zones, so ask them to set “stretch” goals. Ask employees to think in terms of what the maximum target is that they can set. Then ensure that the system will support them, and recognize that although they may not hit the stretch goal, they might still have done everything they could have and personally developed along the way. The playbook should motivate and inspire employees to remain engaged and focused. In our case, our playbook title includes our operating philosophy on the cover so everyone can see it: “Think. Believe. Realize.”
As Gerstner also said, “If the reward system pays a premium for one kind of behavior, that’s what will determine employee behavior — regardless of the words enshrined in the value statement.” The reward is also an essential part of putting your playbook into action and should line up with expectations and measurement — the “inspect” part of what Gerstner outlined.
Accept Different Needs And Unify Through Common Goals
Legendary six-time Super-Bowl-winning Patriots head coach Bill Belichick has a famous-but-simple one-line directive for his team to improve: “Do your job!” I’ve seen that Patriots players are given assignments and know they have to execute, and they do – sometimes even when put in new positions or given new plays. The players likely know Belichick and his coaching staff will hold players accountable if they don’t live up to the team’s standards.
This is an important lesson from sports that you can incorporate in your company playbook: the need to ensure accountability and the need to do your job while at the same time relying on and trusting your teammates and management to do theirs.
Today’s startups are often comprised of a mixture of tech professionals, engineers, scientists and various business people — from Gen Z and millennials to boomers (and even professionals in their 70s) — each with different motivators. Many tech professionals’ independent thinking can make them very astute at developing code and inventing intellectual property. Business people may be focused on securing funding and driving revenue, and scientists are working on achieving the next big breakthrough. You should require each of them to break out of their siloed labs, data centers and corner offices and come together to realize shared goals while still making sure their individual needs are met.
Just as a sports playbook sets each play and strategy that will help the team get the win, today’s companies need to map out their goals and beliefs and put that into action among themselves, as well as their players on the field. I believe it’s a sure path to success.