Leadership’s Role In Recognizing Meaning and Impact

By Marty Parker

Recognizing meaning and impact are important in high performance cultures. In The Culturepreneur: How High Performance Leaders Craft Culture as Competitive Advantage, I write: “As leaders, we need to really understand what’s important to our team and connect that to the larger purpose of the organization to drive outcomes.”  Once that connection is made, we also need to look beyond outcomes, and celebrate the inputs, learnings and impact that our team members are having.

I sat down with Leslie McGill, president and CEO at MedicAlert Foundation Canada to talk about some of the ways she and her team celebrate culture and how culture and purpose overlap at the organization.

The interview has been edited for length, but you can listen to the full conversation here.

Marty Parker:

Leslie as the president and CEO, what is your role when it comes to culture?

Leslie McGill:

Well, this is no word of a lie, Marty, I have a set of pom-poms in my office and that doesn’t go back to my old cheerleading days, although I was a cheerleader back in high school, but what I am is a culture cheerleader for our organization. And that means so many different things to so many different people. But for me as the president and CEO, if I don’t carry and cheer on the team from what we do and how we work and how we want to work, because it’s a continuous process in our environment as it is in others, then there isn’t a level of authenticity that sort of permeates the organization.

So, literally I bring my pom-poms out at every town hall that we have and we cheer everybody on. And part of that is also taking the opportunity and time to recognize staff at every turn, no matter whether it’s a significant thing that an individual or a team has achieved, or whether it’s something small, but something small that made a significant difference either in somebody’s day, or in a project, or to the overall culture of the organization. Those are things that we recognize and we value through something called kudos.

And those kudos come verbally… and we use Microsoft Teams as part of our culture to connect, especially during COVID. And those things are shared openly, every single day with a staff. It’s not once a week. It’s not once a month. It’s a daily habit in our organization. That really drives the difference, and that comes from me. I look for kudos every day and I try to look across the organization, not just with my direct reports and not just with the management team. And most often it’s very easy to find because we have staff members in the frontline who deal with our subscribers, and the wonderful feedback that we get from our subscribers is very easy for me to just lift and say, “Congratulations for making that person’s day.”

Marty Parker:

How does your culture and your purpose overlap?

Leslie McGill:

I’d like to say it’s as easy as it’s one and the same. As a mission-based organization, we’re in the business of making communities thrive, not individual shareholders, for example. So, the purpose that we drive and the individuals that we help and support, those are people with health crises. Those are marginalized and disadvantaged communities typically. So that kindness piece… goes a long way. The culture of health and support goes a long way in our environment because we are there working in crisis and emergency situations to be able to support people who may not necessarily be able to do that for themselves.

So, when we sort of take our organization as a bit of a microcosm, we spend a lot of time helping each other, and we spend a lot of time working with each other to grow and develop, whether it’s skill sets, whether it’s education, whether it’s training, whether it’s just simply the ability to be able to recognize an impact from home that might be having an impact at work. We drive those things because we always like to say that health is the one thing that is most precious to everyone. And if you don’t have your health, you can’t do anything else. And so we practice what we preach inside our organization, and then we deliver that to the individuals that we help and serve. So that is really where those two things cohabitate for us.

Marty Parker:

Leslie, what do you see as critical to aligning your people and your culture and to sustaining your high-performance culture at MedicAlert Foundation Canada?

Leslie McGill:

I think the key thing, Marty is the continuance of transparency. That’s become a really important part. So, often in organizations, there’s a trickle down effect where when you trickle to the frontline of the organization, the trickle is small. We share everything in our organization, the good, the bad, the ugly, because a great idea can come from anywhere. I firmly believe that. And so, we are working towards making people more comfortable. That wasn’t always our corporate culture. So, we are working very hard towards providing opportunities for staff to suggest an idea, to speak about a challenge, or a problem… I don’t think it’s a two way dialogue, I think it’s a multi-way dialogue. Those are important things for us to be able to continue to sustain, and grow, and develop our culture.

The other thing that goes along with that is innovation. And a lot of people think of innovation (and I do, particularly because I came from the tech sector) as technology. Technology is an empowering tool set for true innovation… We have now developed an innovation division within our organization. We are working to develop our innovation pipeline. It could be technology innovation, it could be operational innovation, no matter what it is. And those are the two things I think that are critical – innovation and transparency – for us to succeed and continue to grow our high-performing culture.

To find out more information on championing culture and leading change please check out our Waterstone Culture Institute.