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How leaders shape company culture

The words “workplace culture” often bring to mind companies like Google or Pixar, with bright colours, open offices, company social activities, and an atmosphere of fun as well as hard work. The reality, however, is that a strong workplace culture does not have to be fun-loving to be satisfying – and if the culture is not already satisfying for your employees, then table football is not going to help.

Prem Kumar, senior director of product for employee engagement solutions provider TINYPulse, defined workplace culture as the “ethos of the organisation. It’s what motivates, inspires and drives your organisation. It’s the sum of each employee’s values, knowledge and interactions with one another.”

S. Chris Edmonds, author of “The Culture Engine” and founder of The Purposeful Culture Group, narrows it further: “Culture is how the organisation is operating: how people treat each other.” To Edmonds, successful culture boils down to trust, respect and dignity.

“Perks may be cool, but if people are stabbing each other in the back, it’s not a good culture,” he said. “It’s about leaders treating each employee as a legitimate person and an asset, an attractive player who can be the face of the company.”

And Kumar adds: “At its best, workplace culture is not only derived from a diverse employee base but drives them to be better as a collective whole.”

The role of the leader

Culture is becoming more important than ever, perhaps driven by the inherent impatience of millennials, who are not content to put in 25 years with a company to get a gold watch. Rather, “they want a place where they are valued, mentored and allowed to work where they do their best,” said Edmonds.

The first step for any leader looking to improve the workplace culture is to determine the values that reflect the company. “All of the companies we’ve found to be truly successful are led by people who embrace that which makes them different and use it as a competitive advantage,” Kumar said. Then you need to determine what concrete behaviours reflect those values.

One company might give management the freedom to give time off for excellent behaviour; others might have a group social to celebrate an occasion. But underpinning everything is transparency, which, according to Kumar “pays people the respect of bringing them along on your journey – whether it’s explaining why a decision was made or holding yourself and others accountable.”

Leading by example

Printing your company’s values on T-shirts and posters is not enough. It’s up to the leaders to model them, from the CEO to the direct manager. Only then will employees follow suit.
Edmonds noted that an improved culture leads to improved productivity – and that often leads to promotions.

“We regularly see performance go up 30-35%, and service up 40%+ as a result of improving the culture,” he said. “But if the leader who championed the culture moves up, the new leader may change the culture and undo all the good. Therefore, senior leadership must stay dedicated to the new culture,” said Edmonds. “The behaviours have to become ingrained so that it survives the change of leadership and the organisation can evolve with its mission.”

Adapted from an article by Karina Fabian on May 4, 2017. To see the full article, click here.

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