How A Leader Can Impact Culture

by Susan Mazza | Posted | Leadership

How A Leader Can Impact Culture

While the subject of employee engagement, or lack thereof, continues to get a lot of attention these days, consider that engagement is a product of your organization's culture.

Culture drives the everyday experience of employees, because it drives the actions and decisions of their leaders.

In an article in Forbes Magazine titled "Culture: Why It's The Hottest Topic In Business Today," Josh Bersin makes the case for why "companies that focus on culture are becoming icons for job seekers." The first point he uses to back up this assertion is:

"Fortune's Best Companies happen to be many of the same companies listed in Glassdoor's Best Places to Work and also LinkedIn's Most In-Demand Employers. This shows that companies with strong, positive cultures (Fortune and Glassdoor's list is based on employee surveys) are now the most in-demand. So the 'culture winners' are winning bigger."

The bottom line is, if you want to engage and retain the best employees, tending to your culture is a leadership imperative.

Leadership and organizational culture

Of course, that's easy to say, but often hard to do, especially when you're just one leader who believes culture is key among many other leaders who may not.

So how can one leader impact the culture of their organization, with or without the support of those alongside or even above them on the corporate ladder?

You can begin by focusing on the culture you're creating with those you most directly lead.

A great place to start is to take an honest look into your culture through the lens of your organization's values.

Here's a three step plan to get you started:

1. Check whether the values your company espouses match the reality your team members experience.

In one of my earliest jobs I remember seeing the values listed on the cups in the company cafeteria. The values were actually publicized in a lot of places, but never discussed.

Checking whether your team members experience the values your company espouses will give you a great reality check on your organization's culture. And it will also help you check how well you as a leader are cultivating those values in the everyday work environment for those you lead.

Start by asking what each value means to them? Then ask, "In what ways are we living true to that value and in what ways aren't we?"

Awareness is often enough to initiate positive change, even without an explicit action plan. This is because once you see the gap together, as individuals you're more likely to naturally adjust your behavior to close that gap.

2. Choose one value that you want to work together to close the gap between aspiration and reality for, and define what success would look like.

Build on what you learned from the first conversation and come up with three ways you would know you were living true to that value. Keep it really simple.

For example, if the value you choose to work on is collaboration and you observed that the same few people do most of the talking in meetings you might determine that success would be: "In every meeting, everyone participates."

This is how you can shift your values from being theoretical to being actionable.

3. Set a monthly meeting date for at least three months to assess your progress.

Discuss what you've been doing differently, what you see changing, and what you could try over the next month to continue to close the gap.

Evaluate your progress against each of the three things you said defined success.

By bringing your values to the forefront of conversations with your team, you'll affect culture in the only way it can change - one conversation and one action at a time.

Your Turn: What do you do as a leader to positively impact the culture in your organization?

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