Culture, Accountability, and Saying the Words

In “The Ice Cold Leader Process” there are a few indomitable tenets:

  1. Culture is made up of the things you DO, not the labels you put on them.
  2. You cannot hold someone accountable if they do not know what they are supposed to be accountable to.
  3. You must consistently SAY THE WORDS that you have established that make up your culture and what you will hold people accountable to.

As you begin The Ice Cold Leader Process you will be hyper focused on what your current culture is, or the things your team or organization DO. For example, you may begin to notice to an alarming degree that your team focuses on placing blame for things that do not go right.

Perhaps, you notice that while work generally gets accomplished, it gets done with the spirit of a condemned man being walked to the gallows. There is no spirit, pride, or enthusiasm being displayed, only complaints, doom, and gloom.

Or, you are finding that initiatives or projects, begun with great enthusiasm at the early stages, seem to fade and either never get finished or are completed in a manner that has no similarity to the original goal.

For better or for worse, these are some of the things that make up your culture.

Improving the Culture

So, again, in the spirit of The Ice Cold Leader Process, you adopt some behavioral guidelines. In other words, you specifically identify behaviors you will expect from your team that will define your culture. Based on some of the patterns of behavior you observed as a leader above, you decide that these three behaviors (or core values, or value statements, or culture statements…whatever you decide to call them) will make up your culture:

  1. Planning and communication
  2. Professionalism
  3. Prioritize and execute

As required, you give context to these behaviors so everyone knows what they mean, how they will make the team or organization better, and examples of how things went wrong when these behaviors were not exhibited.

You have now established the behaviors you will hold your team or organization accountable to. They are clear, in context, and, if followed, will make your team better regardless of the nature of your business. For example, these behaviors have nothing specifically to do with Information Technology, Engineering, Combat, Teaching, or playing baseball. But, if adhered to, they will make you a better Technology, Engineering, Combat, Teaching, or Baseball TEAM.

Some teams or organizations get to this point (many do not). You may even make up some posters and hang them on the wall. Perhaps you even put them in writing and make them a part of your onboarding process. But then, after time, they are forgotten. Nobody even sees the posters on the wall anymore and the last time some employees heard anyone even talk about them was when they joined the company 10 years ago.

How Do We Make It Stick?

What to do?! How do we make the culture we desire and have identified stick? How do we make it the things we DO consistently? How do we get it to transcend personalities, capabilities, missions, and time? The answer is simple:


Say the words when you are reprimanding, “This project is not going well because we did not thoughtfully plan and are not communicating outside of our team, let alone inside our team. Let me remind everyone how we do business. We plan and communicate.”

Say the words when you are praising, “I took notice today of some very small, but important things. I noticed people keeping their desks neat and organized. I noticed people cleaning up after themselves in the coffee lounge. I noticed people saying, ‘thank you’, ‘you’re welcome’, and ‘nice work’. I noticed PROFESSIONALISM. Well done! This is how we do business, we are professional in all things we do.”

Say the words to hold someone accountable, “George, give me an example of how you prioritized and executed this week?” “Mary, how has your team exhibited professionalism over the last month?” “Pat, please tell me how you are prioritizing and fully executing team initiatives?”

SAY THE WORDS!!! Say them every day to praise and reprimand. Say them every day to ask questions. Say them at your weekly meeting. Say them at your quarterly meeting. Use them for employee evaluations. Use them to hire and fire.

If this is new to you, you may feel a little strange saying the words all the time. You may decide to “hope” or “assume” people know what you expect. It may feel contrived or inauthentic to you. But the bottom line is this: If you expect something from someone it must be made clear what it is, and you must be consistent in your verbalization of that expectation.

SAY THE WORDS to establish your culture and to hold people accountable to it. Yes, it is difficult and will take work.

Welcome to leadership!

Errol Doebler is the founder of Ice Cold Leader, a leadership consulting firm. After successful careers as a Navy SEAL Platoon Commander and FBI Special Agent, Errol founded Ice Cold Leader to realize his passion of empowering great leaders and better human beings. Errol provides executive coachingkeynote speaking, and corporate retreats to individuals and teams across the world.

Errol is hosting a FREE Leadership Workshop on Tuesday September 21st at 3pm EST. The workshop is designed for all levels of leader in every field of endeavor who want to level up and become the best version of themselves. Secure your spot here.

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