My first boss was fond of saying this: “Most days, we have fun around here.” The first time I heard him say this, it was in my job interview. He followed it up with “…and you can’t say that about most jobs.”
It was my first job, so I took his word for it. He was right, but I think part of the reason he was right was the consistency and relentlessness of his message, and the subtle lifting up of our situation. By using the words “around here”, he was painting a picture of the organization’s atmosphere/culture/vibe all the time, and it was also a way of controlling the organization’s atmosphere/culture/vibe. Smart. And like all smart ideas, worthy of using in other situations.
At the time of this writing, I’m the director of the Winterset High School band program. About six years ago, I started saying variations on “The most important thing we do around here is treat each other with kindness and respect.” I said it a lot, and put it on written communication from time to time, and eventually it stuck. It caught on pretty quickly for two reasons:
1) It was basically true most of the time for most people (though not as much as desired).
2) It was a worthy goal that spoke to the needs of the people in the group.
Now, if you visit with any members of the band and say “What’s the most important thing we do in band?”, you will always get the answer “Treat each other with kindness and respect.”
It’s not just a slogan, or a cute bit of indoctrination; it has a positive impact on our culture, and can also be a touchstone for enforcing community standards. For example, if Tina lets her rough day get the best of her, and she snaps at Laura, I can say “Hey, Tina – I’m sorry you’re having a bad day, but that’s not how we treat each other around here, no matter what. Is there anything I can do to help you?” When you add that last part, mean it. If Tina says “I need time away from everybody,” give it to her. This is assuming, of course, that this is isolated behavior. Repeated infractions of “what we do around here” call for a different course of action.
Even things as simple as punctuality or accountability can be put into the culture. “Say, Dylan, around here, we show up on time. Any reason that you’re late that I need to know about? Are you okay?” Asking those last two questions indicates that I have faith in Dylan, and that I regard his behavior as the exception, not the rule — I’m assuming the best about him. “Hey Tom, when I ask for a report by noon on Thursday, I usually get it by noon on Thursday. I don’t know about your other experiences, but around here, we respect deadlines. Anything wrong? Anything I need to know about why you didn’t get it in? I want to help…”
How do you want things to be done around here? Voicing those expectations, using those words, can help bring it to life. Try it. I’ve seen it work. Call, write, or comment if you have a specific situation, and you can’t visualize how it would apply in your situation — I’d love to help.