Define, Align, and Refine for a Culture that Works

The Culture Engine book coverIs your workplace frustrating and lifeless—or is it engaging and inspiring?  For many people, descriptors such as dreary, discouraging, or fear-based are often mentioned.  The problem, according to Chris Edmonds, author of The Culture Engine: A Framework for Driving Results, Inspiring Your Employees, and Transforming Your Workplace, is that leaders don’t put as much thought into their organization’s culture as they do its products and services.

But as Edmonds points out, “Culture is the engine—it drives everything that happens in an organization each day.”

In working with organizations for more than twenty-five years, Edmonds focuses on three key activities: Define, Align, and Refine. By focusing in these three areas, Edmonds has helped senior leaders clarify their organizational purpose, values, strategies, and goals, and along the way taught leaders throughout the entire organization how to build engaging, inspiring workplaces.


According to Edmonds, a strong culture begins with rules for citizenship, values, and teamwork. One tool that Edmonds recommends is the creation of an organizational constitution.

As Edmonds explains, “An organizational constitution outlines your team’s purpose, values, strategies, and goals. It paints a vivid picture of success, values, and behaviors. It maps out how to work from that picture each day. An organizational constitution gives employees’ jobs and roles meaning and clarity. Through their organizational constitution, leaders make expectations explicit and describe what a good job and a good citizen look like in specific, tangible, observable terms.” 


Once your organizational constitution is written and shared, leaders need to live by it, lead by it, and manage to it.

“In some ways you are formalizing rules about being nice,” says Edmonds. “And while people might laugh, this second step helps you get more intentional about the way you want people treating each other. And that is critically important when you are asking people to hold themselves to a higher standard. Anytime you change the rules, people are going to want to see if the leaders are living and embodying the values. As a leader you’re going to be put under great scrutiny. So the first thing is to take a look at yourself and what the values are that guide you. Get clear on what you are trying to do as a leader.” 


It’s also important to remember that culture is not a one-and-done type of initiative. Culture is constantly evolving based on the actions and experiences occurring throughout the organization on a daily, weekly, and yearly basis. Without constant attention and tending, it is possible for even the best companies to lose some of the magic that made them special in the first place.

Edmonds points to Starbucks and its founder Howard Schultz as a case of a good company and a good CEO stepping in and taking proactive steps when they notice things slipping.

In 2008, when Howard Schultz stepped back into an active management role with Starbucks, a lot of customers—and certainly a lot of analysts—would have told you that the company had lost its way and needed to begin an immediate cost-cutting program to get the company back on track. But that wasn’t Schultz’s plan. Instead he decided to refocus on the company’s values and culture.

As Schultz explained in a Harvard Business Review article at the time, “I shut our stores for three and a half hours of retraining. People said, “How much is that going to cost?” I had shareholders calling me and saying, “Are you out of your mind?” I said, “I’m doing the right thing. We are retraining our people because we have forgotten what we stand for, and that is the pursuit of an unequivocal, absolute commitment to quality.”

Edmonds says that Schultz “stopped the Starbucks world” and did a reset, a return to the beliefs and values that made your local Starbucks a friendly, inviting place.


Edmonds always finds it interesting when people look at companies like Starbucks (or Zappos) and think they were just started that way and it was a weird kind of lucky business. In Edmonds’ experience the best companies get really clear on the performance they want. And then they get really clear on the citizenship values and behaviors that they want—and they measure and monitor both extensively.

You can learn more about Edmonds approach to improving your company’s culture in the December issue of Blanchard’s Ignite newsletter.  Also be sure to check out a free webinar Edmonds is conducting on December 18, courtesy of Cisco WebEx and The Ken Blanchard Companies.

5 thoughts on “Define, Align, and Refine for a Culture that Works

    • Dear CP,
      The higher up the better, but you can always start where you are planted and have influence. For example, we recommend that new teams begin by creating a Team Charter that outlines roles, goals, and group norms and values. In some ways this is a type of mini-constitution for the team. Thanks for joining the conversation!

      • Thanks for replying.

        We currently have a defined vision and purpose. I’m working on building better role descriptions and values definitions.

        Definitely not and easy task for a leader in development like me.

        Lots learn.

  1. Reblogged this on johncbuckley and commented:
    Defining, creating,, and managing organizational culture is one of the greatest challenges of organizations today. I highly recommend this post for for today’s top-shelf leaders. -John

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