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Opinion: 6 ways leaders can create a culture of unity

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Agreement takes place when people work together on harmonizing goals.

To create a culture where employees work with agreement is an essential step toward realizing positive team members’ behaviors. Agreement influences how consistently people cooperate, make decisions, solve customer issues, communicate, take ownership of results and support change.

Leaders who can win people’s hearts and minds to support the organization’s priorities, processes and goals will experience a motivated workforce.

But not all leaders have it that rosy. They regularly deal with dysfunctional team behaviors, such as employees looking out for themselves rather than the team, resistance to share information with others, chronic negativity and avoiding accountability or taking ownership of their work.

I’ve seen such ills in the culture compensated for with efficiencies and cost controls. Still, even that will catch up with even the most profitable organizations, making it difficult to remain viable.

Creating or sustaining agreement in your culture may seem simplistic, but it’s not. Here are six ways to create a positive culture of agreement.

1. Communicate expectations consistently. Many, if not most, managers overestimate the clarity of their communications to employees. Over the years, I’ve interviewed roughly 1,500 leaders, managers and employees, asking them to explain the company’s main goals or expectations. Less than 10% of these organizations sustain a consistent understanding of the main priorities between upper and lower levels of the organization. To get people moving in one accord, regularly communicate the expectations.

2. Allow honest, frank conversations. Management resistance to hearing critical ideas or problems frustrates employees. One manager grew tired of hearing about his staff’s issues, so he ordered them to stop using the term “problem” and instead bring only “opportunities” for a resolution to future meetings. At the next meeting, one of his team leaders was having difficulty describing a severe problem without using the term “problem.” So, she finally said, “Well it’s like this, I just discovered an opportunity on the production line that’s going to put us out of business!” Frank conversations surface issues and ideas you can use to help produce support for the company’s goals or direction.

3. Be careful about using incentivized competitions. Every part of a company’s culture affects people. Rolling out competition-based programs – though intended to drive better results – can backfire. I’ve seen more than one competition created to increase average performers’ results end up penalizing the company’s top performers. The incentive program ceased when they lost their best employee over it. Poorly designed programs also can build walls between departments.

4. Stop micromanaging. Clamping down on work independence isn’t the best route to better work commitments. One CEO told me there was no way he was a micromanager. However, every member of his leadership team confided that he managed the life out of them with unwarranted constraints and oversight. Provide all the autonomy possible if you want people’s support.

5. Stop tolerating mediocrity. Don’t kill robust agreement by being inconsistent with standards. Some managers are reluctant to be the boss and hold people accountable. But by enduring underperforming employees who didn’t meet the standards, it produced disastrous results. Confront problem behavior and remain committed to upholding standards with everyone.

6. Sympathetic listening. More than ever, people need strength, caring and empathetic understanding from leaders. When people go through a crisis, having a concerned boss creates more significant support and commitment.

People are not usually difficult to understand. They want to know their leaders care about them and are working on setting a strategic direction they can support.

Consultant, professional speaker and author Mark Holmes is president of Consultant Board Inc. and MarkHolmesGroup.com. He can be reached at mark@markholmesgroup.com.

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