What sees your company through change? Leaders leave. Products become obsolete. Your organization has an enduring spirit. Where is that housed, and how is it harnessed?
Two hundred and thirty years ago, our forefathers set down the spirit of our nation in the United States Constitution. Our constitution has seen us through tough times. Our constitution “works” because every time we face a threat, it shines the light, helping us remember who we are capable of becoming, together.
More than a vision statement, it provides concrete rules of engagement for us, so that we can know what steps to take to overcome obstacles and get back on track to building a more perfect union. Our constitution also works because it is a living document. Our forefathers created it, but we continue to engage with it, influence it, and be influenced by it. We continue to own it and uplift it; it isn’t something that is done to us.
You and your people are building a more perfect organization, right now. Just as in our country, that process isn’t always tidy and painless. In fact, it’s often messy, stressful, and uncertain. The most practical and powerful way to lessen the uncertainty of your organization’s future is to draw up and embed an Organizational Constitution into your company. Do this, and you house and harness your company’s enduring spirit through setting the standard of great team service and citizenship.
In my experience, organizations that build and leverage Organizational Constitutions typically see 40% gains in employee engagement, 40% gains in customer service, and 30 to 35% gains in profits at around the 18-month timeframe. I am confident this happens because, for the first time, people feel true ownership of their culture. Here are the elements your Organizational Constitution must include:
How do your people help others become their best selves?
What is your company’s enduring spirit and servant purpose?
Whom are you serving and why is that service inspiring and meaningful to your people? An effective servant purpose statement clearly communicates what your organization does, for whom, and “to what end” - why your employees and customers should care about your contributions. The most powerful purpose statements are rooted in service. In what way is your company serving the community, the environment, the world? How do your people help others become their best selves? These are the questions that capture the enduring spirit of your organization; the spirit that will support you and your people to want to band together, survive the tough times, and come out on the other side even more deeply committed and purposeful to serve others.
What core values do you share?
This is where your Organizational Constitution steps into your “rules of engagement” for building a more perfect organization. What four to five core values do you and your people align around? What is most important when it comes to bringing your organization’s purpose into reality? Principles and values like civility, respect, mutually beneficial partnerships, safety, integrity, fun, and extending the benefit of the doubt are common values among the organizations I serve. Yours may be different. There is no wrong answer when it comes to defining your core values. There is only your collective answer, as “We the people of your company.” The core values of your “We the people” will be different even than those of your closest competitor.
Once you identify your shared values, define them. Spell out what the values mean and look like, in real terms. Why are your values the core values of your organization? Be as clear and specific as possible, so that people can easily feel the difference that living the values can make in their day to day lives inside your company.
What does it look like to live those values in your company every day?
You’ve captured your servant purpose and the four to five values that will support the fulfillment of your purpose. Now, you can detail the behaviors every person must practice to ensure they manifest the values that are most important to your company. What does a good citizen of your organization do? How do good citizens treat peers, bosses, customers, vendors, and other partners? What behaviors must people practice to live the shared values of your organization? If integrity is one of your company’s core values, don’t assume “everyone knows what it means to live with integrity.” Everyone interprets lofty ideas in different ways. You must define integrity in observable, tangible, measurable terms – and leave no doubt what it requires to live that value in your organization. A measurable behavior that models integrity? “I do what I say I will do.” It’s crisp, simple, and observable. Be concrete. Provide examples. Paint a vivid picture of what it looks like when everyone steps up and takes ownership of your shared culture. Values can only be leveraged through observable behaviors. Ideals aren’t enough.
How do you hold one another accountable to your purpose and values?
What happens when people effectively steward your constitution? What happens when they don’t? Obviously you won’t be sending people to jail if they fail to honor the rules set down in your Organizational Constitution. But there must be consequences for not carrying the torch of your agreed upon contract. You must make it clear that how the work gets done is as critical as the results achieved.
Sign your “John Hancock.”
We've all heard the story. John Hancock signed his name boldly, so that King George could read it “without his spectacles.” When you have completed your Organizational Constitution, create a space for every single person in your company to sign it. The more public and meaningful you can make the signing process, the more impactful it will be.
After the signing process is complete, you’ll be ready to begin embedding your living Organizational Constitution into your culture.