In the business classic Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap … and Others Don’t, Jim Collins describes the “level 5 leader” as a frequently colorless public figure, yet one focused on many of the social mechanisms of an organization. His analysis shows the drawbacks of a heroic leader, including the obvious fact that an organization dependent on one person for its success gets in trouble when that person leaves, retires or dies. Great leaders, says Collins, live more often out of the public view but build behavior-based values like “facing the bad news” and a “culture of discipline” into their organizations’ DNA.
Great leaders set a purpose and vision for a company by the goals they establish, the values they promote and the destination they describe. Then they empower the organization to build culture itself, guided by their vision. They hire people who will promote and demonstrate the right cultural values. They build and promote a social architecture that supports the culture they want.
Social architecture is to culture what a foundation, beams and joists are to a building. Social architecture is found in a thousand small behaviors: communication, traditions, authority, privileges and “ways of doing things.” Social architecture is useful because no manager can be everywhere, on every phone call, standing beside every employee whenever they’re doing anything.
Three components of social architecture deserve special mention here: shared values, employee engagement and united execution create a high-performance culture. Social recognition is the link connecting all three.
Shared Values: Management teams spend countless hours concisely defining their company’s values into a cultural vision that inspires employees to achieve strategic goals. Ideally, values should also differentiate a company from its competitors.
Unity matters. For a company’s values to have an impact on employee behavior and performance, they must be understood in the same way by all employees regardless of position, division, geographic location or tenure with the company. The company’s unique value set needs to be promoted, rewarded and propagated. Shared values are taught, retaught and honored when recognition draws attention to specific behaviors tied to a company value.
Engagement and Social Architecture: An engaged employee is a cornerstone of social architecture. If a spirit of innovation is a core cultural value, for example, then any time an employee suggests a new way of doing things, or a creative idea for a product or service, he or she is demonstrating that value. That’s engagement — going beyond the letter of the job and promoting one value that makes up company culture. When others recognize, celebrate and appreciate individual acts of innovation, that value is reinforced socially.
United Execution: Ultimately, social architecture’s value is to drive behaviors that support the company’s mission and business goals. This requires united execution, which means that individuals function as a team, supporting each other’s individual activities and goals as well as performing their own. Even if individuals share most company values and cultural beliefs, without united execution they risk error, mistrust and miscommunication.
With united execution, competition for rewards remains rule-bound and fair. People support and encourage each other because they understand that the larger goals they share benefit everyone. Shared values, engaged employees and united execution can be a daily reality with a strong, supportive and inclusive social architecture. The tools that work best for building social architecture are the different forms of recognition