No matter how senior, authoritative, or developmental a leader you are, you can’t manage your organization’s culture alone. You need everyone working together. And although you can discuss culture in detail in the boardroom, that’s not where culture develops. Changes in culture happen where the employees are.
But it won’t work to micromanage those cultural changes or force their implementation from the C-suite. If successive levels of management can’t manage change successfully, then you’ve got a problem that directives alone won’t fix. Your managers might be the wrong people or may not have been developed well enough. Or perhaps your C-suite hasn’t required a healthy level of accountability from them.
Take It from the Top
Who will articulate what needs to be accomplished? Starting at the most senior levels of the organization, make sure every team leader understands the part they play in supporting the culture and helping their teams support it too. Make cultural norms and values part of daily discussions. In group meetings, ask consistently: How can we best accomplish X? How could we be better at Y?
Employee’s responses to these questions will demonstrate the way they perceive the culture today. If they feel a lack of trust, they won’t be open. If they have insufficient confidence in each other, or are experiencing inadequate collaboration, you’ll see problems with commitment or even competence. And if team leadership is lacking, there may be a corresponding lack of direction or decisiveness.
Clear the Path First
Team leaders should not only show their employees the path, but help clear away any obstacles in it. It’s their job to ensure that the employees have the tools and resources they need to do their jobs as well as an understanding of day-to-day priorities. There may be disagreement about the best ways to accomplish goals or even about which things are most important. There’s nothing wrong with disagreements so long as they’re conducted candidly and respectfully, without anyone going underground.
And the initial focus should be on effectiveness. Once people know how to get things done – while continuing to treat each other well, of course — then efficiency can always be ratcheted up afterward. But whether it’s due to a need for speed or cost-cutting, concentrating too heavily on efficiency too early, without first establishing accuracy and quality of output or process, will create too many piecemeal activities and place too much emphasis on the trees and rocks and not enough on the forest or the path.
Establish Good Will as a Baseline
An effective workplace with strong cultural norms can help everyone reach their individual potential by bringing out their competence and confidence. Employees need to feel that they can be themselves at work and be appreciated for who they are and their individual differences as well as for how they fit into the organization and succeed there.
In a strong culture, individuals learn to spur themselves and each other on to greater things without undermining anyone. Employees are less likely to fear either moderate conflict or bad news if the difficulties that arise are in service to the needs of the business and not because of personal rancor or gain. When everyone understands their part in what needs to be done and why they’re doing it, then a general level of good will can support people through even the most difficult conversations.
Most employees want to grow and give back. Organizational cultures work best when the game is fair for all employees and everyone understands the rules and what it takes to win — from the C-suite to the shop floor.
Onward and upward,