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David FullerRock, paper, scissors is a game we all played as children in the playground. And in a company department nearby, they hold a weekly Rock, Paper Scissors Championship.

On Thursday of every week, the people in the department gather on their lunch break for a few minutes to play rock, paper, scissors to determine who will be drinking out of the coveted champion’s coffee mug for the week.

The champion proudly brings the cup to the morning meetings and brags. The team laughs and jokes with each other. They have a culture where things get done but they have fun doing them.

The word culture has been overused and overthought. But culture can be defined as the way we’re expected to behave when we’re in a certain environment. Culture is really the rules of the team, spoken and unspoken.

We talk about certain gangs having a culture of fear, or schools with a culture of excellence or perhaps countries with a culture of hospitality. We know of businesses that operate in a culture of chaos, drama, greed, bureaucracy or corruption. We also know businesses where fun, caring and awesome customer service is the context in which they operate.

How we’re viewed is directly the result of how the people in our organization, family, group or country behave.

So what’s the secret of creating phenomenal culture in our businesses?

Rock – These are the goals or expectations of the organization. Our people need to be clear about what these are or else they’re going to set their own expectations of behaviour, which might differ from the vision of the leaders.

I always told my staff that my goal was to provide a working environment that was safe, fun and rewarding so that no matter what was happening in their home life, they could look forward to coming to work. I also set high expectations about how we would treat the customers, our suppliers and each other. Also, I had high expectations about the quality of products we would sell.

As well as setting these expectations, we need to model them. As leaders, the buck stops with us.

Paper – When we fail to reward the great things that happen in our company, we’re implying that great performances are no different from failure or mediocrity. Research has shown that companies where the environment is fun, healthy and productive outperform their competitors by 20 to 30 per cent. Rarely do these companies have trouble attracting talent since people want to work in a positive environment.

But what if we can’t notice the great things people in our organization do?

Some businesses have more people than we can touch in a day. This is when culture takes over. We need teams that understand that great behaviour needs to be celebrated. We need systems in place that give praise, financial bonuses or even trophies to celebrate staff achievements. That’s how we create culture.

I’m not talking about those phoney paper certificates or plaques that rotate throughout the office. I’m talking about meaningful rewards for meaningful contributions.

Scissors – We need to cut the crap! Companies don’t run on the policies or strategies written down on paper, because nobody believes what they read until they see it in action. Companies, just like our families, are modelled on the behaviour of their leaders. If leaders tell their employees that they must be polite to customers and clients, but they’re disrespectful, rude, dishonest or even lazy, employees will pick up on that behaviour and this will become a norm, the company culture.

Often culture depends on what leaders allow. As leaders, when we don’t speak out against disruptive words or actions, we create a dysfunctional culture. The person who is consistently late encourages a culture of tardiness. Those rude comments by an employee to co-workers permit a culture of drama. The constant gossiping, lack of performance, or even moodiness or depression create a culture of despair. Overlooking uncleanliness tells people that it’s okay to be messy. When we don’t monitor unacceptable behaviour, we’re acknowledging that it’s okay in our workplaces. We shouldn’t be surprised when it becomes the cultural norm.

You don’t have to be some big business leader or hire a guru to create phenomenal culture in your work environment. It starts with you. If you want to work in a place that’s fun, start making it fun. If you want to work in a place that’s excellent, start making it excellent. If you want to be part of somewhere that customers love to come back to, you must start giving customers reasons to love you.

Leadership isn’t a title you inherit just as culture isn’t something you can dictate. Leadership starts when others want to follow your lead.

Paul, who is not the manager, told me that he started the weekly Rock, Paper, Scissors Championship in his department to add fun and excitement to his workplace. Paul knows that for teams to thrive they need to get to know each other and enjoy each other’s company, and that also makes the work time fly by.

Playing rock, paper, scissors each week is Paul’s contribution to a great department culture. What contributions are you making to better your organization?

Troy Media columnist David Fuller, MBA, is a certified professional business coach and author who helps business leaders ensure that their companies are successful. David is author of the book Profit Yourself Healthy.

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