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Alexandra Reese's Growth Guide

Actionable insights to improve your leadership, life, and impact

In this edition of the Growth Guide, I share three better practices to define a thriving culture.


This is the third edition the series on culture. Here’s a refresher on where we’ve been and where we’re going:

  • The first built the business case for investing in culture, shedding light on the true cost of toxic workplace cultures.
  • The second introduced an actionable four-step framework for creating and sustaining a thriving culture.
  • This edition provides better practices to define your culture (the first two steps in the framework).
  • Next week’s edition will provide better practices to reinforce your culture (the final two steps in the framework).
  • The fifth and final edition will provide better practices to building culture in hybrid and remote work environments.
If you have questions about how to reinforce culture or build culture in hybrid/ remote environments, please send them my way!

Thank you for being a valued member of my community! If you received the Growth Guide from a friend or colleague, welcome! If you like what you read, you may subscribe here


Better practice #1: Adopt coherent policy

Gallup defines a toxic culture as a “confused culture” (1). You create confusion when you don’t have policies in place, or you create conflicting policies. For example:

  • Equity is a core value, yet you have no compensation philosophy to ensure consistent, fair pay.
  • You’re doing an agile transformation, while maintaining command-and-control management.
  • Manager-level job descriptions include people leadership responsibility, yet manager incentives only reward project-based responsibility.

No leadership team sets out to create confusion and conflict. But they inadvertently create it when:

1. They don’t have key policies in place. In the absence of policy direction, people make decisions based on their best judgment. When judgment calls collide—and they will—it creates confusion and conflict.

2. They adopt policies that conflict with unspoken norms. Last weekend, I attended a leadership summit in which a senior HR leader from Nike shared her biggest “failure” at work: she designed and launched a revolutionary hiring process that, despite promising early results, was dismantled only six months after launch. While the program made sense on paper, it did not align with the unwritten beliefs and practices that had shaped the culture of hiring at Nike. Hence, the program met with too much resistance to be successfully adopted. 

To maintain a healthy culture, your policies must align with both written and un-written ways of doing things. You can and should use policy to change culture. And you must prepare for and manage that change for it to be successful. Check-out my recent Growth Guide on the new realities of transformation leadership for actionable guidance on leading successful transformations.

3. They adopt policies in a vacuum. Too often, leaders create policies with little consideration to the secondary or tertiary impacts of that policy. Diversity, equity, and inclusion statements are a great example. Many organizations raced to complete such statements in 2020, without considering how these statements complemented other policies and cultural norms (e.g., hiring). When organizations failed to bring other policies into alignment with their DEI statements, employees viewed the DEI efforts as disingenuous (2). The backlash did real harm to leadership credibility and organizational culture. 

To avoid conflict, do not create and evaluate policies in a vacuum. Consider how they align to other key policies that shape your culture. And when you adopt policies that change the culture, make sure you bring existing policies in alignment with the change.

Building a thriving culture begins with painting a clear picture of the culture you want. Each policy you adopt is a brushstroke in your painting. To make a masterpiece, you must have a complete and coherent set of policies in place.


To validate completeness, look for problematic inconsistencies in how you do things across the five facets of your organization (paying closer attention to the twelve bolded items that have a stronger influence on culture):

Where you see problematic inconsistencies, explore how you could improve policy to create more consistency.


To validate coherence, evaluate policies through two lenses: (1) your strategy (what you do), and (2) your values (how you do it). Every policy choice should reinforce both. Ask questions like: Is this policy incenting behavior that aligns with our values? Is that behavior aligned with the new directions set forth in the strategy?


Better practice #2: Set a strong policy foundation with behavioral values

Your behavioral values are your most important policy tool. They:

  • Provide concrete, actionable guidance on how people should show-up at work.
  • Enable objective behavioral feedback.
  • Remove bias from performance reviews.
  • Provide criteria for making tough business decisions.

To reap the full benefits of strong values statements, your values must:

  • Have meaning to the team, so they feel inspiring and motivating.
  • Clearly define what each value looks, sounds, and/or feels like in practice, so people can use it to guide how they show-up and give feedback on others’ behavior.
  • Reflect strengths in the culture today, so they feel real and empowering.
  • Be embedded in other core policies like your organizational structure, management philosophy, performance management system, hiring practices, and compensation philosophy, so they create coherence in your culture.
Here’s an example of a values statement from one of my clients, which you may use as a reference point:

To create impactful behavioral values, I recommend engaging your team in an interactive process to define meaningful values. 

Not sure where to begin? Feel free to use my values guide, which includes an activity you can complete with your team.


Next week, I’ll share better practices to keep your values living and breathing within your organization. If you're not using them, they won't help your culture. 


Better practice #3: Systematically develop people leaders 

During a recent executive roundtable, a leader at my table expressed frustration at the quality of people management in her company. Many managers weren’t having one-on-ones. Of those that did, many used their one-on-ones to manage their people like projects. And try as she might, she felt powerless to change the situation because none of these managers would accept training and development support.


In my perspective, the quality of people managers isn’t the root issue. It’s the policy that promoted people into management positions without proper evaluation and support.


Your people managers are the most important connection your employees have to the organization. As such, they shape the perceived culture of the organization more than any single policy. So if you want to have a healthy culture, you must adopt policies that systematically develop effective people leaders. For example:
  • Define what "good people management" looks, sounds, and feels like, providing concrete guidance and training on the mindsets, systems, and behaviors expected of people managers.
  • Evaluate prospective managers on their leadership abilities before promoting them. 
  • Require management training for all would-be and existing managers.*
  • Provide ongoing support for people managers in the form of coaching and mentorship, so they have just-in-time help to troubleshoot issues and long-term support to grow and develop. 
  • Incent people management, not just individual project and deliverable contributions. 
*Most organizations refuse to invest in training for prospective leaders because they see at is too costly. I'd argue it's more costly not to do this training.

"Bad managers" are the #1 reason employees leave organizations. And the average cost of a departing employee is 1 - 2X their annual salary. So every time you promote someone who is unprepared to manage people into a people management position, you put hundreds of thousands of dollars in labor capital at risk.

And quality training does not have to be expensive. My Coaching Essentials for Leaders program, for example, offers investment options that begin at just $247 per person. That's less than the cost of a nice evening out.

Building and sustaining a thriving culture begins with explicitly defining the culture you want through policy. Every policy you adopt shapes your culture. The questions you must answer are: 

  • What culture are you shaping with your policy? 
  • Is it a confused and toxic culture, or a consistent and coherent culture?

If you're worried about the health of your culture, reach out. I’m here to help. In just one complementary consultation, we can make a lot of progress on sharpening your strengths, opportunities, and goals. 


Opportunities to Partner

Coaching Essentials for Leaders: Coaching Essentials for Leaders is a workshop series in which you’ll master 12+ essential coaching skills to unleash the energy, creativity, and performance of you and your teamIt involves:

  • 4 experiential workshops (available à la carte)
  • In-person and virtual options
  • Group and 1:1 coaching enhancements

There are three investment options, starting at just $297. For the price of a nice evening out, you could cultivate skills to dramatically improve your leadership, life, and impact now. That’s a pretty incredible ROI. You may register here.

One-on-one and Team Coaching: If you're ready to rapidly transform your leadership, life, and impact, I'm here to guide the way. As your coach, I'll work with you (and your leadership team, if desired) to clarify your vision and purpose, set bold goals, build an actionable strategy, and cultivate the mindset, beliefs, and behaviors necessary to achieve sustainable results with confidence, ease, and joy. If you're ready to improve your coaching skills, one-on-one and team coaching are great opportunities to do so.

Your Leadership Mindset Blueprint: What could you achieve if you felt engaged, motivated, and fulfilled--even when times are tough? How would you show-up differently for yourself, your team, and those you love if you felt calm, confident, and in control of your actions and reactions? How would it feel to navigate life with the support of someone who only has your best interests at heart, who listens without judgment, and who supports you in creating the life and legacy of your dreams? This life is possible! And it starts by shifting your mindset. This 4-hour experience will empower you to do just that with dramatic results. Read more and sign-up here.

Growth Advisory: You've been working diligently to grow your organization, but have yet to achieve sustainable results. Or perhaps you've done exceptionally well and are ready to take things to a new level. I can help you hone a compelling vision and strategy, then execute with confidence, ease, and joy. 


Links to Past Editions

Here are links to the first 21 editions:

Mar 2This solvable problem costs U.S. companies $50 billion every year

Feb 23: Pour fire on the fuel of your growth journey

Feb 16: How to become a Coaching Leader

Feb 9: Coaching skills for leaders

Feb 2: The #1 investment you should make to drive outstanding performance in 2023

Jan 26: The do's and don't's of transformation leadership in 2023

Jan 19: To hire a GREAT coach/ consultant, avoid these 3 mistakes

Jan 12: Four strategies to achieve goals with greater confidence and ease

Jan 5: The secret to setting effective goals

Dec 22Glean powerful insights from 2022 w/ this 3-step reflection process

Dec 15: Nine proven strategies to eliminate stress

Dec 1: Three things you can do now to boost success in 2023

Nov 17Eight signs you've got a feedback problem & how to fix it!

Nov 10: Make performance management your unfair advantage

Oct: 1/ The four elements of a high-performing leadership team, 2/ Cultivate an empowered leadership mindset

Sep: 1/ Replan for Q4, 2/ Jumpstart growth through self-awareness, 3/ Three Qs to save you BIG in your next strategy process 

Aug: 1/ Adapt your strategy process, 2/ Support your mid-level managers, 3/ Halt your mid-career crisis

Jul: 1/ Win with values, 2/ How to get hybrid work right, 3/ Vacation like a European

Jun: 1/ The mid-year review, 2/ Sharpen your creative skills, 3/ Win through failure

May: 1/ Prepare for downturns; 2/ Better, faster decisions; 3/ Embrace difference to improve performance

Apr: 1/ The Q1 review, 2/ Prime yourself for success, 3/ Focus your innovation investments for impact


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