Chris Taylor, Actionable’s Founder and President, recently wrote and spoke about the tactics he uses when screening new team members. His robust, and well-reasoned approach aside (I may be partial because he hired me), he spoke a lot about the all-too-amorphous concept of culture. Culture is one of those buzzwords that can mean a multitude of things, or nothing at all. Chris does a great job of connecting the dots between action and culture—while recognizing that the best working relationships are an ongoing effort, conversation, and negotiation.

We created the Engaged Employee Pyramid as a framework for guiding leaders who use our Actionable Conversations platform. It works like Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs—you cannot achieve the top level of the hierarchy unless you lay a strong foundation. In order to have the most powerful impact, a team should master the previous layer before moving on to the next skill. Just like Maslow’s hierarchy, we all want to be achieving—and have our clients and their teams achieving—at the top level. We want the innovative thinking, the self-actualizing, that comes at the top. Laying the foundation isn’t the sexy, high-impact part of the process that you may be hoping for, but it is essential.

Role and Culture fit is the foundational level of our Engaged Employee Pyramid.

Pyramid_BrandWhat that means is that you have to establish culture before you can reach the top of the pyramid, and develop successful, engaged employees. You may have a one-off victory or two, but without this foundation of shared perspective, those successes may be impossible to duplicate.

At Actionable, our culture manifests in the strict no-a**hole policy that is rigorously applied in all hiring and onboarding. The company values are clear, concise, and enacted on a daily basis by all members of the team. Role is defined according to ability and interest. The culture and my role within the organization were clearly articulated to me in the job description and interview process, and I was able to determine, without a doubt, that I would be happy working with Actionable.

Think about culture within your organization. If you run a sales team that values quick results, it doesn’t make much sense to hire a sales person who prioritizes the long cultivation of relationships. If you run a team of developers who produce great results with strict, well-established processes, hiring a candidate who recoils from routine would be counter-productive.

Within the teams you have established, it’s a practical business investment to take the time to ensure that members of your team have a clear sense of their role and the culture of the company. Chris often uses the metaphor of a car: it needs oil. Whether you take it in for regular scheduled maintenance, or wait for it to go up in flames on the side of the highway—your car needs oil. Your employees need to understand their relationship to the greater goals of the business. They need to know that you care about them—enough to perform routine maintenance.

These kinds of personal conversations might seem, at first glance, to be a bit touchy-feely, or abstract, or difficult to measure. But feeling seen and heard by members of your team is not just an added bonus—it’s foundational to engaged employees, who can then move up the pyramid to deliver the results you’ve only dreamed about.

We have a Slack channel that shows Actionable staff participant and leader feedback from recent Conversations. The comments on the Conversations that deal explicitly with role and culture fit are routinely the most emotionally charged. Team leaders are learning about the aspirations of their teams, and feeling closer to them as a result. Just one recent example: “I was moved to learn more about each of my coworkers in a deeper way. They were vulnerable and honest and open and I came away feeling like I knew them in a much truer way.”

If you’re feeling impatient about the idea of getting to the top of the pyramid, and accessing innovation, and creative problem solving, I get that. I assure you that your team wants it too.

First though, you have to build the foundation. Make time for real conversations. Personal conversations. Make each other laugh, and then collaborate often. Say “I’m not sure, what do you think?” Figure out what quiet aspirations your team has, and show them that they can talk about their goals.

Laying a solid foundation will help you get to the top of the pyramid quicker, and ensure that you can enjoy the view from the top for the foreseeable future.