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  • Writer's pictureTony Richards

The Cultural Impact Of Nonnegotiables

In my work with CEOs on workplace dynamics, company culture and climate, I stress the fact that what people perceive as important in the organization produces the climate.

People in the company watch what does and doesn’t get noticed. They watch the gaps in what leaders say and do as well as the commitment to their own goals and initiatives. These employee observations count for more in future behavior than anything. These things count more than written memos, documented policy, more than things said in company meetings and speeches. The creation of actual boundaries of the work climate happen when employees make these observations which are re-enforced by what employees say to each other meeting after meeting.

Most executives would like to put most of the accountability in the hands of their employees. In order to create true, intentional, clear accountability, the leader of the organization must establish true, intentional and clear boundaries. Rather than allowing those to develop by themselves through the inconsistent actions of those in charge.

When the CEO is inconsistent, unintentional and unclear, the organization will follow suit.

When we know what standards we will not negotiate on, unclear boundaries become very clear. We know what behaviors and habits we want to see happening and which ones we will not tolerate. This also creates coaching and feedback opportunities to help all levels of staff people to get on the road of continual improvement.

This is not just a matter of following rules. It’s more about making a true commitment to the company and perhaps even more importantly, to each other. The leader can lay out the nonnegotiable, but what you are really after is for your people to buy-in and hold themselves accountable. When leaders have to force themselves to hold employees accountable, there is a big problem and that issue is buy-in. There isn’t any. Employees are having a mere transactional relationship with the organization rather than having a powerful transformational one. Transformational experiences create increased capabilities, confidence and self-esteem. Transactional experiences lead to the “Monday Blues” and the “Thank God It’s Friday” mental models.

Using thoughtful planning can help in the transition of moving from transactional environment to a transformational one. In creating these firm nonnegotiable principles, which are going to be the bedrock on which we build this desired environment, we need to keep in mind these critical factors.

Purpose and Strategy.

The Purpose is the answer to the question, why is this company here and operating? The Strategy is the answer to the question, what is the simple plan to drive sustainable growth in revenue and gross margins? Your cornerstone nonnegotiables must support these two components of purpose and strategy. Without clarity on these answers, you will be lost in a foggy environment, slinging mud balls trying to hit a wall you can’t see hoping something sticks to it.

Company Culture.

Leaders drive culture and followers shape climate. The leadership team must decide on which nonnegoiables will work to shape the culture they desire to accomplish the objectives of the purpose and strategy. How well they communicate and demonstrate that to their followers will determine the climate, the day-to-day workplace reality. Culture should be consistent and universal but climate can vary across an organization.


What is the evidence of distinction you are trying to create for your enterprise? The reason nonnegotiable are so important here is that the consistent customer experience you want to create has to be the customer experience your clients actually see, hear and feel in a positive manner. Just like the culture and climate, there can exist a gap varying from wide to small between what you desire the experience to be and the reality of the experience of the customer.

Leadership in these critical areas is what every organization needs to succeed at the highest levels. Consistently reinforcing the nonnegotiables and making sure that standards are high and consistent demonstrates leadership. Leaders must not get sucked into a heavy diet of technical work, but spend time inspiring team members and having clear expectations on their values, words, attitudes and behaviors every day. This consistency of action educates employees intentionally rather than having them make deductions on their own.

For more insights like these, sign up for the Monday Morning Coaching Memo.

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