Leaders have a huge influence on organizational culture. In fact, you probably have more influence than you realize, and sometimes this can bite you if you are not conscious of how your words and actions impact others in your company. If you are having issues establishing a strong organizational culture, you may want to look in the mirror—a strong culture starts with leadership.
You need to follow through with what you say and be accountable for your actions—or your team will lose faith in your word and your ability to be an effective leader, rendering your influence null and void. More concerning is they will model those same behaviors and resent it when you expect more that you deliver yourself.
5 Ways for Leaders to Influence Organizational Culture
Here are 5 effective ways for leaders to influence company culture:
1. Model behaviors
Leaders must walk the talk and lead by example. Your team looks to you to take the lead, and display and communicate your expectations, especially during change. You can’t expect people to change their habits if you aren’t willing to do so yourself. Therefore, you need to make the same changes and display the same actions you expect out of your team. If you take the lead, others will follow.
2. Establish a purpose to believe in
People want to know what is expected of them. They want to be clear with what their role entails and how it impacts the organization.
As I’ve communicated in Using the 3P Change Equation to Stimulate Sustainable Change, “In the absence of a clearly focused purpose—whether it be for the company or a project you are working towards—people will fill that vacuum with their own, and you potentially have people moving in different directions. However, with a clear purpose in place, it provides your people with clarity and the opportunity to emotionally connect and join you in your journey.”
Communicate with each employee how the organization’s purpose connects to the specific job they are performing. For example, if your company’s purpose is to “provide an exceptional customer experience” ensure that each person—whether they are a cleaner, secretary, branch manager or executive, understands how they can support this purpose in their role.
3. Set Expectations and help people build the required skills
Most people want to improve their professional skill set and make a difference. To do this, you need to provide them with the tools, resources, and opportunities that allow them to grow and gain confidence in their ability to meet expectations and fit seamlessly into your vision for organizational culture. Offer coaching and training, and reinforce the company’s mission, vision and values through regular communication.
You also need to set expectations in the form of personal objectives each year. Make sure that your team knows they are part of the culture you are creating and clearly communicate how the company will help them develop the required skills to be successful contributors. Set expectations, but also show them the path to move forward by offering support along the way.
4. Reinforce a culture of accountability
Accountability is one of the most important ways for leaders to influence culture. When leaders hold people accountable, it helps people understand that they are accountable in all things they do. Without accountability measures in place, a leader’s influence and word will fall on deaf ears. Your team needs to see that the way in which you do business, internal processes and systems, and cultural elements are in place for a reason.
Making accountability part of your culture begins with, having detailed job descriptions with clearly established measures (i.e. increase sales, improve customer satisfaction rating) so people are clear on what success looks like. These measures need to be further defined each year with specific deliverables as part of their performance management plan so reviews are based on clearly defined and agreed criteria. Transparency is critical when building a culture of accountability.
5. Make it personal for your team
Even if you model desired behaviors, establish a clear purpose, and hold people accountable, you can have even more influence on culture and performance if you make it personal. Making changes and establishing a desired culture will challenge people, and they will be resistant unless you connect with them emotionally and rationally.
This means understanding what personally motivates them, giving them the opportunity to develop new skills and working to create a work environment that works for them and the organization.
As I’ve said in the past, “Creating change requires a rational and, more importantly, an emotional connection. No matter how rational an argument you make for the need for change, people will not buy in until you engage them on an emotional level.”
Each time you make a change, even a subtle one, you are influencing and changing organizational culture. Be aware of your influence and actions if you want to achieve desired results.