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Ask John Dame: How do you instill company values, culture?

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As an executive coach for the past 15 years, I have worked closely with dozens of CEOs and their leadership teams. All of the executives with whom I work face similar issues. Send your questions to

Q: In 2016, we had a fantastic year. It seemed like everything worked well. We had a great strategy, the right people in the right seats, and extraordinary execution. This year, not so good: We've updated our strategy and worked with the same team,

John Dame
John Dame - ()

A: You might be experiencing the "Halo Effect."

Many everyday concepts in business — including leadership, corporate culture, core competencies and customer orientation — are ambiguous and difficult to define. We often infer a reality from them, which appears to be more concrete and tangible: namely, financial performance. As a result, many of the things that we commonly believe are contributions to company performance are, in fact, attributions. In other words, outcomes can be mistaken for the things that we input or think are causing the outcome.

Wise managers know to be wary of the halo effect. They look for independent evidence rather than merely accepting the idea that a successful company has a visionary leader and a superb customer orientation, or that a struggling company must have a poor strategy and weak execution. They ask themselves, "If I didn’t know how the company was performing, what would I think about its culture, execution or customer orientation?"

The bottom line is that when you think things are too good, or things go south on you, examine the data in detail and depend on it to make good decisions moving forward. Is there something that you missed in your analysis that stands outside the standard "noise" you hear regarding your company’s performance? I’ll bet there is.

Q: We have worked hard on our values and want to be a values-driven company. How do you suggest we get our entire team to “buy in” to our core values?

A: I think it is fantastic that you want to create a great culture through high values.

During strategic planning, most executive teams work hard on creating values that are important to their organization. The end result usually is a list of five or six core values that are dropped into the plan and possibly enlarged and placed on the wall of the lobby.

In his book, "Fundamentally Different," author David Friedman talks about having your core values but expanding them to include a list of behaviors that are understandable and observable, and are guaranteed if followed to produce incredible results.

Once the list is done you need to develop some rituals that will reinforce the core values and fundamental behaviors within your company. One idea is to deliver a weekly video interpreting a behavior. Another is to include these behavior discussions in your one-on-one coaching sessions and reviews.

Regardless of how wonderful your core values and behaviors are, you need to work on ways to engrain them into your culture. The results will blow you away.

John Dame is a CEO coach, executive team consultant and leadership strategist based in Susquehanna Township, Dauphin County. Visit his website at

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