A company culture is the sum of the behaviors of all the people in an organization. While every individual plays a role in the culture, it’s the leaders who have the most influence because they set the vision, create company policies, and set an example for employees. For these reasons, defining the type of company culture you want requires intentional effort on the part of leadership. Understanding this and knowing how leaders influence others around them is critical if you are trying to create a certain culture.
Leadership Sets the Vision
Leadership is responsible for defining the vision of the organization and ensuring that others in the company both understand it and embrace it. The corporate vision plays a role in culture because it informs the decisions that are made. For example, a company that wants to stay on the cutting edge of its industry must be world-class in innovation. Likewise, an organization that strives to provide the best customer experience must have the people and processes in place to be completely customer centric.
By defining the vision, sharing it with the organization, and demonstrating the desired behaviors, leadership is setting the target and can always link actions and behaviors back to the vision—either they support it, or they don’t.
Leadership Creates Policy
A company’s policies should support both the vision and the desired culture. For example, an organization that prides itself on being family-friendly must have policies in place to support this claim. Otherwise, the words fall flat and the vision never comes to fruition. Even worse, policies that are counter to the mission and culture can have negative effects on morale and reduce the credibility of leadership.
When going through a culture transformation, think about how your existing policies do or do not support the desired culture and adapt them accordingly. Also, think about the policies that do not yet exist and what changes you could make to promote the culture you are trying to create. For example, if the company mission includes supporting the surrounding community, a policy that includes paid time off for volunteer work would encourage employees to commit to mission-centric activities.
Leadership Models Behavior
When creating a culture, it doesn’t matter what leaders say; it matters what they do. For example, if you are trying to build a culture of productivity and line managers are not working in a productive manner, don’t be surprised when the employees they supervise follow suit. On the other hand, a manager that stays late to help complete a project will encourage team members to display the same level of commitment to their own tasks.
Leaders at every level must display the types of behaviors you are trying to encourage in the culture. If leaders don’t model the desired behavior, employees won’t take the culture transformation seriously and will continue to operate in the same ways they always have. On the other hand, when employees see changes taking place and the positive effects of those efforts, they will be motivated to participate as well.
Company Culture Starts with Leadership
Building a specific type of culture requires participation from everybody in the organization, but it must start with leadership. The overall vision, the corporate policies, and the day-to-day practices must all align in order to achieve a culture transformation, or even to maintain the type of culture you currently have.
Leading a culture transformation is no small effort, which is why many companies are reluctant to undertake it. However, with a clear vision, a plan to execute it, and a strong commitment, leaders can change the hearts and minds of the individuals that make the organization what it is.