Building a High Performance Culture Part XXIII

Words that Work: Fitness

In this post on building a high performance culture I’m adding the word “fitness” to the “words that work” category. While a healthy culture is good, fit cultures become great.

I’ll explain the difference below, but first review the strong and weak cultural words below so you can conceptualize the ideal culture to move your organization towards, as well as what you must weed out of your culture in order to maximize your organization’s potential.

Words that work and must be woven into culture

Earn: to acquire through merit.

Deserve: to be worthy of; to qualify for.

Consistent: constantly adhering to the same principles.

Hope: grounds for believing something in the future will happen.

Catalyst: a person or thing that makes something happen.

Responsible: to be the primary cause of something.

Tough-minded: strong willed, vigorous, not easily swayed.

Loyal: faithfulness to one’s duties or obligations.

Passion: a strong feeling or enthusiasm about something, or about doing something.

Discipline: an activity, regimen, or exercise that develops or improves a habit or skill.

Commit: to pledge oneself to something.

Prune: to remove what is undesirable.

Wise: having or showing good judgement.

Diligent: giving constant effort to accomplish something.

Hunger: an intense desire, a compelling craving.


Words that hurt and must be weeded out of culture

Fault: responsibility for failure.

Blame: to assign responsibility for failure.

Excuse: a plea offered to explain away a fault or failure.

Mediocre: average, ordinary, not outstanding.

Wish: to want something that cannot, or probably will not happen.

Entitle: a claim to something you feel you are owed.

Sloth: reluctance to work or exert effort; laziness.

Complacent: calmly content, smugly self-satisfied.

Maintain: to cause (something) to exist or continue without changing.

Apathy: a lack of enthusiasm, interest or concern.

Interest: to be curious about. (as opposed to being committed).

Foolish: lacking good sense or judgment.

Micromanage: to control with excessive attention to minor details.

There’s a lot of talk within organizations about growth and not nearly enough about health; but there’s even less discussion on the concept of corporate fitness. Frankly, an organization won’t continue to grow if it becomes unhealthy, so working to create cultural health by weaving the words that work into your foundation, and weeding out the works that hurt is an ongoing priority.

Health is defined as “being free from illness or disease.” When a culture becomes unhealthy—sick—due to infections like selfish leadership, entitled team members, lack of accountability, the acceptance of mediocrity, pervasive bureaucracy, or the tolerance of toxic achievers, growth stops and decline begins. So while ridding a culture from illness and disease is essential to becoming healthy and building a good organization, it’s not enough to allow an organization to reach its fullest potential.

Organizational greatness isn’t possible without cultural fitness. Fitness is defined as “being in good health, especially because of regular exercise.” In great organizations there are regular exercises—key disciplines—that are implemented with consistent excellence that elevate it from being good to greatness. Some of these exercises are:

  • Rigorous recruiting, interviewing and hiring processes.
  • Highly effective and consistent training, feedback, coaching and mentoring.
  • Living, breathing, walking and talking the mission, vision and values.
  • Defining, then redefining whenever necessary, the performance standards most vital to optimize results.
  • Swift accountability to check poor performance or remove poor performers.
  • Creating a ferocious focus on the key lead measures—essential daily activities—in each job position and ensuring they’re executed with excellence daily.

Just as unfit bodies are limited in their effectiveness and lifespan, so are unfit organizations. To become fit corporately, one must dismiss the “ten day diet” versions of quick fixes or silver bullets and employ disciplines like those listed day in and day out, without excuse, and regardless of the cost.

Incidentally, the fitness of a culture is a direct reflection of its leader’s fitness. A “sick” leader has no chance of creating a fit culture.