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The culture playbook 101

Agencies talk about having a great culture, but what does it really mean and how do you create one? In the first part of a two-part series, Hannah Gill examines what a culture playbook is and the initial steps leaders must take to craft one.

You can bet most businesses and teams have values of some description, but what do they mean, and how are they applied or upheld?

Words like ‘integrity’, ‘honesty’ and ‘care’ have little impact if they lack the perspective and drivers of the leaders, the broader team and their overarching goals.

Additionally, when joining a team, and without context, it can be hard to understand and apply how a team’s culture looks, feels and sounds.

Developing a culture playbook is much like creating a procedures manual, but it is underpinned by the teams’ cultural ‘how to’ and sets out behaviour expectations.

It creates clarity for people and gives them a roadmap in understanding what is expected of them as a team member. 

It should become the undercurrent for how you do things, the decisions you make and it should be reinforced repeatedly.

You should recognise and celebrate good behaviour and call out actions inconsistent with your playbook. 

Depending on how deep you want to dive, your culture playbook can cover everything from recruitment and onboarding to rewards and recognition, pathways and promotions, and everything in between.

But to understand what you expect from your team culturally, you first need to know what you stand for as a leader.

Understanding your own leadership style underpins your contribution to the culture of the team you are part of.

If there is a misalignment, you won’t authentically deliver on and uphold the playbook.

Once you are clear about what this means to you, you can define and operationalise your cultural expectations, and this is where the magic starts to happen.

You don’t need to be the business owner or even in a management position for this exercise.

You simply need to take a leadership position and apply this in the way you behave and communicate with your team.

Before you start writing your culture playbook (and we’ll discuss that next issue), first take the time for some self-reflection and ask yourself these 10 questions:

  1. What does success look like to me?
  2. What do I stand for?
  3. What do I want to be known for/what is my legacy?
  4. What will I not tolerate?
  5. When do I feel most empowered?
  6. When have I felt out of my depth?
  7. What am I good at?
  8. What areas of my leadership do I want to improve on?
  9. How would a team member describe me in my absence?
  10. Thinking back to working with a great (or terrible) leader, what did I learn, and how have I applied this in developing my own style?

You’ll probably start to see themes and patterns in your answers.

When I’ve done this exercise with teams, they regularly land on words such as consistency, care, communication, courage, unity, understanding, listening, learning, transparency, trust and respect. 

The good news is there’s no right or wrong.

It’s simply to help identify what you stand for and want to impart to those you lead so you can build your culture playbook around these key messages in a clear and operationalised way.

In the wise words of Maya Angelou: “people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel”.

This is very much the fabric in driving culture.

Drop me a line if you want to talk through it or reflect on your responses – it’s a great activity to do consistently as a reflection and check-in exercise.

Next time, I’ll take you through the road map for writing, implementing and upholding your playbook.

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Hannah Gill

Hannah Gill is the Director of The Property Collective, REIACT President and one half of Gill & Hooper