Published 17 January 2018 Category: Business, Entrepreneurs, SMEs, Startups, Workplace

How Leaders Influence Company Culture

The words "workplace culture" often bring to mind companies like Google or Apple, with bright colors, 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 a ping pong table isn’t going to help.

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
Leaders, especially senior leaders, have not been asked to examine the culture aspect of the company, but it's becoming more important than ever. The new generations 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. It comes down to trust, respect and dignity.

The first step for any leader looking to improve the workplace culture is to determine the values that reflect the company.

Once you have determined the core values that define your organisation, you need to determine what concrete behaviours reflect those values. These too vary by organisation. For example, a retailer with the value of "doing more for the customer" might have employees offer to help carry bags to the customer's car, while a mechanic shop with the same value might have free detailing with every repair.

Internally, of course, you can't go wrong with the core values of treating everyone with respect, trust and dignity. However, one company might give management the freedom to give time off for excellent behavior while others might have a group social to celebrate an occasion.

Transparency at its heart is paying people the respect of bringing them along on your journey – whether it's explaining why a decision was made with honest detail or holding yourself and others accountable. This is key to a great culture.

Leading by example
When management models the defined values and behaviours, employees start to follow suit. Again, the clearly defined behaviours are key, as they make it easy for managers to point out when someone is not following the company values (and give workers the ability to do the same for management).

Culture is not something you can delegate to HR. You need to model the behaviours yourself because managers are looking to you. An improved culture leads to improved productivity – and that often leads to promotions. The problem is that 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. The behaviours have to become ingrained so that it survives the change of leadership and the organisation can evolve with its mission.