The Culture Hack You’re Not Seeing

“Take this pill and all your weight loss and fitness dreams will come true! No workouts needed!”

“Get that summer 6-pack in 30 days!”

…if only that were true.

We’ve all seen products that claim to have the “key” or the “hack” to the magazine-cover physique. We also know there’s no substitute for good old-fashioned hard work and dedication to achieve your fitness goals. So, be wary of those tactics, because looking for shortcuts doesn’t always work out.

However, there’s a difference between claiming to have found a way to “beat the system” and uncovering something that’s been under your nose the whole time. In this context, we’re talking about your company culture. Regardless of how “healthy” (or unhealthy) it may be, there is one thing you can do to make an immediate impact.

 Disclaimer: This definitely won’t burn off that Hungry Man Chicken Dinner you just popped into the microwave.

 The answer is empowerment.

As a former US Marine Captain, I’ve seen the results of empowering individuals down to the lowest levels- and it’s astounding. As Marines, we became experts at delegating decision-making authority to those who are closest to the problem and allowing them the latitude to build processes and procedures that enable them to accomplish their tasks.

Additionally, we fought to preserve their autonomy from any undue influence from higher-level officers. As mid-level leaders, we recognized how little we knew about the situation on the ground compared to the Marines who were living it every day. We also understood the amount of friction we could cause by issuing directives without first seeking the input and recommendations of those who would ultimately be responsible for bringing the plan to life. Therefore, we knew it was best to foster a culture of delegating authority to the lowest level possible, while still possessing ultimate responsibility for the outcome. Our junior Marines knew they could make decisions, they knew we were ultimately responsible for their actions, and they never let us down.

Similar to other organizations in the public and private sectors, us mid-level leaders worked closely with senior leadership to ensure our teams and subordinates were equipped with the tools they needed. We also worked hard to preserve our teams’ autonomy by constantly communicating with senior leadership to give them a “warm and fuzzy” that the job was getting done right. This resulted in our Marines being trained well enough to build the right processes, equipped with the tools to be successful, and empowered to make decisions that get the job done right. Fortunately, this approach isn’t exclusive to the Marine Corps. It can be employed in any organization whose culture allows for it. For those organizations that can empower down to the lowest levels, this practice can be very powerful.

There are several factors at play that make empowering down to the lowest levels so successful. It shows your rank and file team members you trust them and recognize they are the most knowledgeable on how they might accomplish their own goals.

Empowering your subordinates also demonstrates you will have their back if/when something goes wrong. This is important because it invokes the reciprocity norm that states people who feel someone has done good to them are more willing to be supportive, cooperative, and a good steward of the special trust and confidence you’ve displayed in them.

Empowering at the lowest level possible is also great for company culture. Trust begins to spread, accountability shifts from top-down to peer-to-peer, and you’ll begin to see process improvement and new ideas flow into your organization as it combines with employee satisfaction and fulfillment. And the best part is… you don’t have to do it yourself! That’s right, you can get that rock-hard culture-abs without getting off the couch.

So, what’s next? How do you design a culture of empowerment within your sphere of influence? Begin by understanding what outputs and information your leadership values. Then, find the team members who directly impact those outputs and challenge them to build or establish new processes that accomplish team goals while optimizing individual performance. Once you have these recommendations, communicate to your leadership how you’ll be implementing change to better serve their goals, as well as your team’s. Finally, employ your team to implement these new changes. You’ll be amazed at the cultural impact that results from your teams knowing you are invested in their ability to achieve goals and live a more fulfilled work life.

Do it for them. And for you: Keep showing up to the gym. The summer isn’t too far away.

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James O'Flaherty
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