In an interview with co-author Kathie Sorensen about Culture Eats Strategy for Lunch, she likes to compare good cultural leadership with sonar. I thought this was a powerful metaphor. Sonar means the sender makes use of an echo. For instance, when a whale or submarine creates a ping or noise, it sends sound waves into the water around it. The waves bounce off nearby objects, and some of them reflect back to the object that made the noise.
If we want to optimize our culture, we have to look for examples of excellence all around us and signal them to others. Those examples are frequently the brief but meaningful moments in time that, if consistently highlighted, allow you to emphasize the behavior you’re looking for in your people.
Leaders who actively ping for excellence and productive habits that often go unnoticed discover a lot of micro-behaviors that add up to a positive culture. If you can find ways to create awareness about performance you hope to duplicate, then employees start to pick up on these small but powerful cues.
One of the simplest ways you can bring attention to behavior that’s conducive to a great culture is by optimizing your interactions. And one of the most important interactions where we can have a lasting impact is though what Sorensen calls “rock star introductions.”
When your employee receives a rock star introduction, Sorensen says you have capitalized on a rare opportunity to highlight your employee’s strengths and contributions to the organization. When leaders and managers model these exchanges, Sorensen says it spreads like wild fire. Why? Because you’re celebrating the individual’s accomplishments, the role they play in the organization’s success, and the actions you’re looking for in others. Over time, these brief but meaningful introductions amount to a strong and consistent signal to your organization.
Gallup research underscores this rationale: “By communicating appreciation and providing motivation to the recognized employee, the act of recognition also sends messages to other employees about what success looks like. Recognition is both a tool for personal reward and an opportunity to reinforce the desired culture of the organization to other employees.”
Remember that great cultures aren’t built upon ambitious, large-scale moments. While those are easy to see on the horizon like cargo ships on the ocean, they can overshadow what’s happening beneath your hull. Instead, dip your head below the surface and fire up your sonar. You’re bound to find the smaller yet countless performances made on a daily basis that amount to an ocean of possibility.
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