Driver of car waves handMy lovely bride (of 33 years), Diane, is a native Texan. We’ve visited her family there on many occasions and lived in Dripping Springs, TX for a few years before we found our way to Colorado.

While automobiling around the state, you’ll see “Drive Friendly” signs along most highways. The Texas Dept. Of Transportation defines this approach as yielding to other drivers and being courteous.

When driving on two-lane Texas highways in daylight and a car approaches you, 95% of the time the driver will give a small wave. It’s part of the Texas culture.

Let’s bring this idea into our organizations. Wouldn’t it be great to have an authentically “friendly” work place? Does your organizational culture provide a courteous, safe, inspiring environment where people thrive, where work gets done, customers are wow’ed daily, and stakeholders are equally thrilled?

Work Friendly

Creation of a truly friendly work environment for ALL staff, from senior leaders to front line employees, does not happen casually. It happens only when senior leaders are intentional about their corporate culture, when they place equal emphasis on performance AND values demonstration.

There are three levels of workplace cultural health:

  • The most basic level is CIVILITY. This level is an absolute minimum; an un-civil workplace creates stress, frustration, and distrust. None of those create consistently high performance, values-aligned work environments. Civility means that all staff are treated with respect: their roles are respected, they (as persons) are respected, their knowledge & skills are respected, their goal commitment is respected. Civility is typically a passive experience; active conversations shift the workplace up into the next level of health. Note that if ONE un-civil interaction occurs at ANY TIME, it means your culture doesn’t meet this minimum level of cultural health.
  • The second level is ACKNOWLEDGEMENT. To reach this level, civility must be firmly embedded in the organization’s work environment. Acknowledgement is the active recognition and expression of thanks and gratitude for staff effort, commitment, skills, productivity, citizenship, service, etc. This acknowledgement happens in various and frequent forms in the work environment; certificates, stories on the company intranet, verbal thanks, applause for people and/or team efforts, etc. The words, “Thank you” are heard a lot.
  • The most advanced – and desirable – level is VALIDATION. To reach this level, acknowledgement must be firmly embedded in the organization’s work environment. Validation is the active valuing of team members’ ideas, skills, enthusiasm, and talent. Validation is often seen in the form of delegation of authority and responsibility. Talented, committed team members thrive when their leaders – and the organization’s members – show trust and respect for their skills, commitment, and potential.

How do you know the level of your team or organization’s cultural health? ASK EMPLOYEES. Regularly (twice a year, at least). Act on the data you gather by validating elements (and players) that support your desired culture and redirecting/removing elements (yes, and players) that don’t.

Join in the conversation! How “friendly” is your team or organization’s culture? Share your experiences in the comments section below.

Get your FREE EXCERPT from my new book, #POSITIVITY AT WORK tweet, written with the delightful Lisa Zigarmi. View our video on why we wrote the book, understand the research on positivity in the workplace, and more!

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S. Chris Edmonds

Chris helps leaders create purposeful, positive, productive work cultures. He's a speaker, author, and executive consultant. He blogs, podcasts, and video casts. He is the author of two Amazon bestsellers: Good Comes First (2021) and The Culture Engine (2014).
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Reader Interactions


  1. Jen Olney says

    Civility is an important culture element. I’m glad to see you bring this up, Chris. So many leaders forget that act of civility and its importance in the workplace. There is something to be said for employees who treat each other with respect and in turn, it comes from the top down. We need more leaders who chose civility and embrace this type of attitude and display it for others to see and emulate within their environment. We have lost this grace among us as a society and it’s time to bring it back. Thanks for this outstanding post.

    • S. Chris Edmonds says

      Thanks for your insights, Jen! You are SO RIGHT – civility is not the norm in many workplaces around the globe. Leaders set the tone for their organization’s members; how THEY behave becomes a standard for how STAFF behave. I firmly believe that organization’s worldwide would benefit from a “minimum civility standard” – employees would notice & benefit, customers would notice & benefit, and stakeholders would notice & benefit!

      Those organizations then might have a change to shift to greater cultural health: acknowledgement and validation.

      Hey, we can dream, can’t we? It is within leaders’ power!



  2. Mark Deterding says

    Outstanding post Chris! Cultural health based on employee’s perception of the environment is a super gauge of how well an organization is going to perform. I have seen many times when senior leaders feel it is part of a civil environment to allow sarcasm and teasing to be part of their daily routine. They think it is fun and a great part of the culture, however the employees are very intimidated by it, and it actually reduces trust, and stunts collaboration, risk taking, and transparency. Until a leader asks the questions, takes the data to heart, and makes the proper adjustments in their behavior, they can never expect to get to an acknowledging and validating environment. Thanks for all your work that you do in this area of culture!!

    • S. Chris Edmonds says

      Thanks, Mark! Sarcasm and teasing does more to erode mutual trust and respect in organizations than is intended – and, some bosses use sarcasm and teasing to wield power, unfortunately.

      Anything that inhibits a safe, inspiring, focused work environment costs the company – in hard dollars, employee discretionary energy and creativity, and in the quality of products and services.

      Leaders can only know their impact if they ask employees, regularly, and refine behaviors to serve more effectively.



  3. Brian Pauley says

    Great article, Chris. I like your usage of the term “firmly embedded.” Too many leaders take this stuff for granted and assume they have civility, acknowledgement and validation. Of course, they wouldn’t know for sure because they’ve not asked their employees. As a great mentor of mine says, “we have to protect our team culture like its our family.” And that means making sure we are not delusional about where we truly stand and stamping out problems immediately.

    • S. Chris Edmonds says

      Great points, Brian! Leaders delude themselves about all kinds of things (with the best of intentions, of course). Great leaders are constantly checking in with employees to get the true picture – from the employee’s perspective. They learn what’s going well or not so well & refine where needed – then ask again the next day.


  4. Susan Penn says

    Great post, Chris. It is all about culture! The thing is, for leaders to ask the questions, they need to really want to know (be willing to change)…otherwise the organization is in a stalemate, and although may limp along on three wheels for a time, will feel the imbalance in revenue and retention within time.

    • S. Chris Edmonds says

      Thanks for your comments, Susan! You’re Absolutely right -leaders had better be willing to listen and ACT when they invite feedback. Otherwise, staff learn vey quickly to not respond to those questions.


  5. Skip Prichard says

    Chris, what a great post. I love your categories and the survey suggestion. As someone passionate about creating dynamic cultures, I appreciate this roadmap for the future.

    • S. Chris Edmonds says

      Thanks for your thoughts, Skip! Few leaders have experience with proactive culture management – I’m thrilled to shed some light on steps that work!



  6. Sean Deardorff says

    Thanks for a succinct, yet super, article, Chris. You’ve led a quality discussion below as well. Call me a jobhopper; almost 32 and, not including the paper route, since 16, have held over 20 different positions with 18 employers, not including any contract or handshake jobs acquired. About half the positions were marketing, sales, or customer service positions, and the remainder were leadership, management, or training roles. Never been fired. No degree. MENSA intelligence. A friendly, charismatic, bald, and slightly beautiful dude. A consistent top performer at every role. I left most employers due to feeling undervalued, under-thank you’d, and perfectly confident I could leave any position, find a new environment, and perform just as well regardless of application. ‘Twasn’t wrong.

    My experiences run the gamut from, in a very real, angry, and threatening manner, having a Louisville Slugger (name-brand and all) pulled on me by the owner of a small telefundraising firm because I was cherry picking our cold prospective leads (he didn’t like my decision to advise him that what I was doing was actually called target marketing) all the way to my present position at a startup private equity firm where I am thanked by my direct manager every day as I leave. Granted, my performance while building our soon to be new lead generation program projects to nearly triple our cash flow from hundreds of millions to billions, so he has reason to be happy and grateful.

    After 2 years out of sales and marketing type positions, I am performing way above and beyond the top of my game so far despite the fact that, get this, I’m currently homeless (technically). Our company is less than 2 years old and in a could clearing grey area between acknowledgment and validation. We’re a sales type industry, so the teasing and sarcasm is always there, embedded, much more so than my non-sales positions in the past. Those two don’t bother me a bit. My manager can jokingly tell me I suck at transfers when I drop a prospect with fat finger syndrome, but it doesn’t phase me a bit.

    The regular expressions of gratitude, recognition, the regular expression of key company values like professionalism, integrity, and listening all overcome any minor flaw my current employer may have and make it my favorite job, environment, and employer in all my work history – because personal life has been a series of unfortunate events lately, there is ZERO chance I would be quadrupling our original expectations if it weren’t for the dozens of “Thank You’s” I hear every day at my present employer. If it weren’t for the fact practically everyone says “Good Morning,” or “Hello,” or “Wuuzzzz crappppennniiiing?!” every time you so much as pass by, not only would the job not be worth the stressors, none of us would perform as well as we do.

    Conclusion: It took me 16 years and almost 20 employers before I found one that properly compensates 6-figures for a track record of nationally acclaimed performance, is a perfect career skill fit, AND nails my most desired environment values: simple gratitude and simple recognition. It took me 2 years to find one that would pull a bat on me, 3 years to find one that would violate OSHA standards regularly, 4 years to find one that tolerated brazen and abusive sexual harrassment, 5 years to find one that was managed by the leaders of a cocaine ring, & 8 years to find a chronic tax evader. You have spot on advice sir; but, in my experience, those that can apply your advice are few and far between. It seems like obvious wisdom when you read it. What do you think prevents more managers or company leaders from properly applying it?

    • S. Chris Edmonds says

      Thanks for sharing your experiences, Sean. I’m thrilled you’ve found a great boss to work for!
      It’s unfortunate that more bosses aren’t “great,” in my terminology (and yours). My experience and research indicates that most bosses do what they do because of 1) role models they’ve experienced and 2) social style (personality type). There are far more OK bosses than great ones – and there are too many really bad bosses (even if it’s a small percentage, which I don’t believe is true) that perpetuate bad boss behaviors because of the power of role modeling.
      I see my mission on this planet as helping create more great bosses. As you note, it’s not rocket science – but it does require a firm backbone to “go against the grain” of OK or lousy boss behaviors. Great bosses know their primary job is one of inspiration, validation, and (yes) production. What they know is that emphasizing the inspiration and validation part, including spending FAR more time on those activities, create talented, committed staff who wow customers, create opportunities, and generate profits that benefit everyone.
      I hope your success with your employer enables you to find consistent and suitable housing, my friend – you work hard and deserve it!


  7. Dave Anderson says

    I love how you mentioned validation for employees. I think that it would be very important to a company for employees opinions and ideas to be valued. I think that it would boost company morale and people will want to work a lot more efficiently. I would love to have validation if I were in a business.

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