Monday Author: Susanne Skinner
Corporate culture is a system of values, beliefs, and behaviors that shape how real work gets done in an organization. When organizational culture is healthy it is aligned to business strategy; motivating employees to act and behave in ways that support the achievement of business goals.
Healthy Leadership = Healthy Corporate Culture
Corporations don’t create culture, people do. It’s the single biggest misconception companies have. Corporate culture is a living thing, shaped by the diversity of employee’s personalities, work experiences and styles.
Within any given organization there are many cultures, or tribes, representing sales, engineering, marketing, finance and management. Every one of them has the ability to build it or break it.
These groups have leaders, processes and shared beliefs. It’s the leader’s duty to uphold the values and beliefs of the organization’s culture through their actions and decisions, enabling the execution of strategy.
This is where cultural values and perspectives evolve. It means there is no single culture, but an amalgamation of personalities, ideas and even competitiveness. A leader does not create the culture but he or she must model the desired behavior that shapes it. Healthy leadership = healthy culture.
You can’t mandate culture, but you can influence it. To shape and sustain a positive organization, leaders need to connect with the emotional side of the workforce, creating a shared sense of purpose, motivation and passion. Never underestimate passion. When people love what they do, they do it better.
Innovation + Culture + Collaboration
Innovation cannot be forced on a company, and neither can culture, but together they are a mission-critical objective.They are necessary to drive results and build a cohesive work force.
A successful culture evolves when these values are aligned with corporate innovation and strategic collaboration. It may be driven from the top down with the common goal of innovation but it is culture that guides the process. Healthy cultures thrive with a combination of innovation and creativity. Innovation requires collaboration and a willingness to take risks.
Risk takers are passionate. Some strategies won’t work, and some product launches, acquisitions, or ideas will fail. In a culture of innovation you define how you deal with those who take risks and fail and those who succeed.
Corporate culture isn’t organic and it can’t be created or dictated by one person. But that one person can support principles that underlie a culture of success. A leader’s job is to create a company people want to work in, then empower employees and trust them to do their jobs. The way it succeeds is also the way it fails.
When the Bough Breaks
Everyone has a breaking point. Most of us don’t know it until it just before it arrives, and by then it’s too late. Culture is the same way. Cracks in the corporate culture begin with small fissures that are reflected by subtle changes in attitude and productivity; often ignored by people at the top.
When a company is perceived to have ineffective leadership the cracks widen and deepen until the culture is one of tangible discouragement and fear. The good people begin to look elsewhere. The B team cowers and hopes for a miracle. A broken corporate culture is underscored by communication breakdowns across the disciplines along with a failure to sustain the principles the company is built on.
When a leader fails to align with, act on or uphold the organization’s values it impacts everyone’s ability to drive results. Weak leadership reinforces the wrong values, behaviors, and attitudes, creating a toxic culture represented by conflict between the organization’s charter and how they actually function.
It is my experience that leaders know when this is happening, pointing to an indecisive leader rather than one who is ignorant. There is always a choice to be made when a culture begins to implode. Wait and see if it heals itself (it won’t), pretend you don’t see it (more often than not), or meet it head on and deal with it.
In order for this last option to work, everyone in the company must understand why the changes taking place are in their best interests. Employee engagement is the only thing that makes cultural change possible. Furthermore, employees must see and feel the changes. Think of it as proof of life.
Leaders make and break organizations every day. Leadership and culture are the crosshairs that align to create competitive advantages inside the company and within the industry. Conversely, when they are out of alignment everything else breaks.
The Right Stuff
Corporate culture is a relentless driver of employee behavior and ultimately, their success. When leaders work to define it, review it, and assimilate it, culture is the fulcrum that tips in the direction of improved performance and achievable goals. Employees are the best and only barometer if leaders want to know how things are going.
Aligning a company with cultural beliefs and behaviors means that not everyone will fit within those parameters. That’s a good thing since the ability to fit into the culture ties directly to performance. It’s critical for companies to articulate their corporate culture with employees as well as potential hires. Failure to do so creates unnecessary and painful turnover.
A healthy culture provides a flexible framework for employees to work and play. It’s a strategy that’s worked for me each time I take a new job. I borrow from the Zappos playbook and look for three things during interviews: humanity in the workplace, collaboration, and the ability to change.
Culture is the primary reason I join a company. It is also the reason I leave.