Organizations today frequently talk about culture and how to improve it. It has been studied by many experts and results have been consistent. Most CEOs think culture is important in their company, however, most feel it is not where they want it to be. In fact, a recent study showed 87% of organizations cite culture and engagement as one of their top challenges. Additionally, 52% of HR professionals say management buy-in is the biggest barrier to strengthening culture.

Historically, organizations use methods to measure employee satisfaction too late to do anything about it. We have all at one point in time completed the dreaded annual engagement survey. You open it up and click through it a quickly as possible with the premonition that no matter how I answer nothing will change. Leadership posts the results then it is not talked about till the next year. Why doesn’t this work? Simple, culture is not a once a year thing, it is every minute of every day!

No alt text provided for this image

The daunting task of the culture shift

Culture is a daunting task to manage. People react and perceive things differently, especially with the desire to have diverse organizations. Leaders need to be aware of the goals and desires of their individual team members, the team, and the organization. It is without a doubt challenging to align everyone’s goals every time, but that is the challenge at hand

Before the shift can happen, you will have to identify your culture goals. This starts with a visit to your company mission and vision. After spending some time with your mission and vision, it is time to start determining what the goals of your company culture are. Some examples are:

  • Employee retention
  • Employee Satisfaction
  • Increased profits
  • Increased productivity
  • Engaged employees
  • Internal Promotions and advancement

Once you understand what you are trying to accomplish it is time to start understanding how you got to the point you are at with your culture. Just like the 12-step program, it’s not a problem until you accept that you have done something wrong. This step of acceptance is the difference between continuing as is or changing. After accepting what has caused your culture issues, it is time to build your plan to fix it. While every company is different based on what they want to accomplish, the one thing that is consistent is all leaders in the organization need to be prepared to drive change. Having leaders engaged in all aspects of the organization will make it easier to start the culture shift. 

No alt text provided for this image

Leadership the ACES way

As you can see leadership is an important piece of driving culture. While there are other aspects to the culture shift, your leaders are going to be the key players in making it happen. Leaders who are engaged in their teams make the most impact on culture. Unfortunately, leaders are often promoted because of their high performance in their previous role, not because they were a great leader of people. To be fair, there are no gripes with promoting your performers, it is proven that performers will continue to exceed expectations when they are continually challenged. Organizations often forget to provide thoughtful people leadership training to new leaders. When you keep promoting from within based on the numbers you eventually end up with an organization that has forgotten about the people that drive the numbers. Enter the ACES method.

The ACES model is a method based around how you interact with your team. It cultivates trust and builds framework to promote growth. ACES has 4 key areas; acknowledge, cultivate, empower, and strengthen. It is time to dive deeper into each area


Acknowledge is a twofold piece. First and foremost, as a leader you need to acknowledge your own shortcomings with the team. Is there someone you don’t connect with? Are you too direct, nice, or easy on your team? Do you have unrealistic expectations of your team?

The second piece is learning how to acknowledge your team’s performance. I like to start looking at this from the simple measure of asking leaders, “When was the last time you genuinely thanked someone on your team for their performance?” About 1 out of 8 has done it at least one time in the last 5 working days. When your team is successful thanking them and acknowledging their performance will help you build trust with them. This will help when you must acknowledge poor performance as well. Not everything is rainbows and unicorns!

Acknowledgement in its simplest form is appropriate feedback for your team. It needs to be done frequently and honestly. Not just at the annual review and employee engagement survey, which seem to happen together frequently in companies.

Acknowledgement in its simplest form is appropriate feedback


Cultivating your team is all about helping them grow. Seriously, you want them to be as awesome as you are right? How you help them get there is incredibly individual and takes time. To cultivate their skills, you need to understand what skills they want to improve. Remember not everyone wants to be the next CEO. Some people are truly content with exactly what they are doing professionally. That is ok.

more than half of employees that leave a company say they left because they wanted to take their careers to the next level


Speaking of empower, employees want to have autonomy to make decisions so they can better utilize their skills and abilities. In fact, 69% of employees say they would be more satisfied if they could better utilize their skills and abilities. So, why are you not letting them?

Teaching your employees how to make the right decisions for you will help them to increase productivity. Why? Simple, they no longer must stop working to find you and ask the question. When you teach them how to make the right decisions, and acknowledge when they do, you cultivate ownership in getting the job done. This translates in to trust for the organization. 

teach them how to make the right decisions

“What happens when they make the wrong decision?” When I get this asked this question in training, my response is simple, “did any one die?” The point here is simple. The decisions we make in business are not life or death, therefore we can afford a missed step here and there if we learn from it. Teach your employee why the decision was incorrect and how to make the correct decision next time. This will strengthen your team.


Once everyone is on the proverbial bus, it is time to sing our koombayas as we drive off into the sunset, right? Wrong, it is time to take everything we have done and keep doing it over and over again. This comes in the form of continuous attention to ACES. “I have spent so much energy to get this far, I don’t know if I can keep it up.”

The good news is, it will get easier as time goes on. Instead of forcing ACES to happen regularly, it will just start to occur, maybe in the break room over a casual conversation or as you are stopping by their desk to get a status update.

I always get asked, “If it is occurring in our regular interactions, do I still need to have formal discussions about it?” The short answer is yes. The frequency to which they occur is dependent on you and your individual employee. I recommend once a month as a starting point. 

Final Thoughts

Culture shift has two variables that need to be constantly monitored for you to be successful. They are leadership engagement and consistency. If not all leaders in the organization from the CEO to the front-line team leader are participating then there is room for this all to break. How is your Culture being represented in your company?