The Compass Rose of Company Culture

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Navigation is a critical skill for sailors. When the magnetic compass first appeared in the 14th century, it rapidly became the foundation for modern navigational systems.

Not long after, sailors developed the compass rose, also called a windrose. The rose typically divided the compass into 8 or 16 points (called points of sail) for easy reference. The rose is still a feature on most modern navigational charts.

Similarly, creating and maintaining your organization’s culture is critical for leaders. Unhealthy culture is at the root of many organizational problems. And culture, just like a ship, needs to be navigated and kept on course.

Today we’ll examine culture from a navigator’s standpoint, using the compass rose as a model.

The main points of the rose (the “C” words) represent four pillars of healthy culture. The sub-points of the rose (the “A” words) are techniques that you will use to reinforce and support the pillars.

The rose is navigated clockwise. True North must be established before navigating to other points of sail. This forms a feedback loop – each successful circumnavigation reinforces and builds cultural health.

Clarity is the True North of your culture. In this context, clarity refers to clarity of purpose (vision/mission), roles and plans. If you aren’t crystal clear on these things, your culture will suffer.

Moving around the circle to the first technique, Clarity is best reinforced by clear Articulation. Articulation refers to the systematic codification of your purpose, roles and plans. Additionally, it refers to codifying the “feel” of your organization.

“Feel” seems a little squishy, but it isn’t. It just takes more work to capture, and some organizations don’t want to invest the time.

For example, our church has a document called “15 Expressions of Our DNA.” These are the bright lines that define how we treat each other and how we operate. Actions and decisions are filtered through this lens.

Continuing our journey – Consistency results from the reinforcement of Clarity. The technique used to reinforce Consistency is to Affirm it. We affirm and reward those things that reinforce the DNA and offer real-time feedback when they don’t.

Consistent Affirmation results in the steady growth of Confidence. People take bold steps when they know what is expected and are empowered to make decisions within clearly articulated bright lines.

This is equivalent to the principle of “more is caught than taught,” meaning that what is modeled daily and actually affirmed by your organization is far more powerful than what your organization says.

In other words – does your walk match your talk?

The techique that best reinforces this Confidence is celebrating Achievement. Well managed and confident teams achieve more. This achievement generates positive energy that permeates and reinforces everything your organization does and stands for.

When done well, this energy is palpable. Over the years I’ve worked with some really great organizations and some that were toxic. I could almost instantly ascertain cultural health after just a few interactions.

The final pillar is Control. This does not mean micromanagement. Rather, it implies systematically monitoring (and defining if necessary) your most important metrics or key performance indicators.

The ouputs from these measurements become the guiding factor in the last technique, which is to Adjust the outputs to more closely conform to desired outcomes. Once appropriate adjustments have been made, you are ready to “take another lap” around the rose.

Healthy culture is the foundation of your organization. I cannot overemphasize this. Be very intentional about investing the necessary time and energy to keep it on course.

Next week – building healthy teams.

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