In the Navy SEAL teams, we have a very well-defined culture of accountability that has been decisively forged over decades of brutal training and combat. Today's business leaders need to understand that accountability is the single most important cultural element that drives a high-performance team to succeed and win. In their best-selling book Change the Culture Change the Game, Roger Connors and Tom Smith detail the reasons and strategies for creating a culture of accountability within any organization.

Earlier this year, I was asked to be the keynote speaker at an annual offsite event for Schindler Elevator. During one of our discovery calls, the CEO mentioned that his entire company was reading this book. He asked that I read it as well prior to the event. I was so impressed with the actionable tools the book outlines that I had our book club at my company read it as well.

One of the core foundations of the book is called "The Results Pyramid." The four components of the pyramid are experiences, beliefs, actions, and results. The experiences that occur within on organization support certain beliefs. Those beliefs lead to specific actions that in turn drive results. For better or for worse.

To improve performance, a company needs to first define what those results need to be and work backward. Defining the results positions you to understand what actions need to occur to get those results. You can determine what cultural beliefs need to be held to make those actions organic events. Then you can craft experiences that support those beliefs.

For the purposes of this article I want to focus on the foundation of the pyramid: Experiences. There are four categories of experiences. Once you understand where your organizational experiences fall within these categories, you can better understand where improvements need to be made.

Experience type 1: Meaningful event

This experience is a clearly meaningful event that leads to immediate insight and needs no real interpretation by management. This is easier said than done because experiences can be interpreted by different people in different ways. In fact, business leaders, myself included, sometimes mistakenly think they are creating type 1 experiences when the outcome might be the exact opposite.

When it comes to improving culture, nothing is more important than creating great type 1 experiences. When you do, you will drive the team to foster specific beliefs that fuel the actions that need to be taken.

Experience type 2: Needs interpretation

This is generally where most experiences within organizations fall. Type 2 experiences require careful interpretation before everyone will really adopt the necessary beliefs. Often, these might be newly launched initiatives that will have a positive impact and quickly become type 1 experiences through careful explanation, execution, and consistency.

These experiences can have a great long-term result as they move from type 2 to type 1. But if belief bias exists within the team because of inconsistencies in upper management's previous decisions and actions, that poses a significant obstacle. That is why thoughtful communication and execution are so important.

Experience type 3: Perceived as insignificant

Type 3 experiences do not alter existing beliefs or nurture new belief systems because they are perceived as insignificant and within the normal pattern of things. This can include things like putting the mission and vision statements on the walls, sending internal company newsletters, and making company announcements.

We do all of these things at my company. So I had to ask myself, are these experiences doing anything to positively support certain beliefs we want to instill? These are things that I believe should be done, but only if there is a distinct purpose and goal being achieved.

Experience type 4: Will always be misinterpreted 

These experiences will never be interpreted in the desired manner and should be avoided at all costs or be completely transformed to land in a higher category. These experiences can actually damage the culture and instill beliefs that have a negative impact.

So how does a leadership team understand where their company's experiences fall in order to drive culture change for improving results?

When working with the leadership team of one of my clients, we went through a simple exercise. I had them put together a small but diverse committee. I drew a graph on the white board with sections for types 1, 2, 3, and 4 experiences. We then discussed all of the different types of experiences the company either intentionally or unintentionally goes through. These included everything from newly created innovation teams and knowledge-sharing events, to philanthropy, internal communication strategies, time-tracking, and the monthly company-wide meetings.

One of the most interesting outcomes was that it was unanimously decided that the monthly company-wide meeting was a type 4 experience. This was concerning because it was the one time each month that everyone across each office came together. Being a type 4 experience, we determined that its purpose was completely misunderstood and most likely instilling an array of negative or at least confused beliefs. The outcome was not to do away with the meeting but completely transform the experience with a clear purpose that would be consistently defined in order to move it up to type 2.

This is just the starting point. One of the most impactful outcomes from this exercise was that the committee that included senior management decided that they hadn't really defined the "why" of their organization. Why do they really exist? Defining that could help them easily move experiences into higher categories. But that is a whole other exercise.

Remember, culture change has to start at the top. Otherwise, nobody will truly believe in the mission.

Published on: Aug 2, 2016