"Culture does not change because we desire to change it. Culture changes when the organization is transformed; the culture reflects the realities of people working together every day."
— Frances Hesselbein
The Key to Cultural Transformation, Leader to Leader
There have been many studies and examples over the years that prove the link between business culture and business performance. Most leaders understand this connection and studies show that many CEOs consider it as important to success as strategy. But, if the results of employee engagement and satisfaction studies are to be believed, it is clear that not everyone is aware of how leadership influences company culture or how to bring about meaningful change. Understanding exactly how leadership influences company culture can help CEOs develop a plan to strengthen it.
Reflections in a Mirror
People who teach communications often advise students to mimic the speach patterns and mannerisms of the person they are speaking to. If the other person speaks softly and slowly, speak softly and slowly. This is an effective method of relaxing the other person and getting them to open up. Whether consciously or unconsciously, employees tend to mirror leadership. If leaders are lively and energetic, so too is the staff. If senior executives are serious and withdrawn, the team will reflect those traits. It's a self preservation technique. For this reason, it is very difficult to create a culture that is disconnected from the temperament of the C-suite.
Employees look squarely at leaders when determining if a company’s values are more than just nice words on a slide. If, for example, a company says that it values quality, yet leaders insist on delivery time frames or resource limitations that undermine quality, employees will reason that the value statement is meaningless and ignore it. If leaders want employees to make decisions based on the organization's core values, they must do the same.
Appetite for Innovation
Fear of failure is the number one killer of innovation. Innovative ideas are new and risky by definition. Leaders who demonstrate intolerance for failure kill innovation at its source and create a culture that values stability over creativity. In well-established companies with commoditized products, this might be fine. However, most modern businesses must innovate to compete.
One of the most common reasons employees list for leaving their jobs is that management allows incompetent, disruptive, or unconstructive employees to stay. People want themselves and others to be held accountable. Leaders who shy away from the responsibility of removing under-performing staff create a culture of ambivalence. Strong players who expect more will simply leave.
Company culture is a deeply ingrained set of behaviors and attitudes. It is not an HR program. Assessing how leadership influences company culture is a good place to start if your organization wants to change.
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