Here’s a question for you … when you go home tonight, how long will it take you to gauge the mood of your wife/husband/partner? Will you be two steps in the door? Three? If your house is like mine, the signs are there for any observant soul to see. You hear humming or singing or happy voices when you open the door. The kids are laughing or bubbling with stories about their days at school. The dog is barking excitedly. Things are looking good.
Or … the house is silent. Except for the banging of pots and dishes in the kitchen. Maybe you hear a steady stream of ominous muttering in between the pan clattering. Your children are nowhere to be seen. Or heard. Even the dog seems to have headed for the hills. You know what kind of mood your spouse is in. And that sets the mood for the rest of the household. Good or bad, the vibes flow down from the senior family member on premises.
We know that life at home and life at work often aren’t too terribly different. So it should come as no surprise that the culture of our organizations – the corporate version of a household mood – also takes its direction from senior leadership – usually the CEO.
In the workplace, culture refers to the intangibles in the environment. It’s about how work gets done. Does communication flow freely? Or must it pass through strict channels? Are employees encouraged to experiment, even if that means failures might happen? Maybe your company has a customer-centric culture, in which great service is highly valued and encouraged. Perhaps your CEO strives to create a performance culture that emphasizes achievement and work outputs. Or maybe your employer’s culture is one of creativity and innovation that requires plenty of time for employees to collaborate and an atmosphere in which they feel safe trying new things.
A recent article in The CEO Magazine pointed out that “the actions and attitudes of the executive teams, and particularly the chief executive officer, act as a roadmap for their employees. The values that executives promote and practice will be the principles that their employees will exhibit and encourage in their dealings with colleagues and customers.”
As the owner or CEO of a business, your influence is felt throughout the organization in countless ways. Every day. Here are some tips to help you ensure that the influence you wield is helping to improve company culture:
1. Define the culture you want to perpetuate. If you haven’t already done so, spend some time reflecting on the company culture you want to encourage. LOTS of research has been done on corporate culture (Google it, I dare you!). And experts have devised all sorts of names for the various workplace environments. It doesn’t have to be rocket science. Just decide what you want to encourage – innovation … incredible customer service … cutting-edge technology … high-performance … you name it.
2. Think about what that means. Once you’ve decided what you want your company to embody, you’ll need to spend a little time identifying how your business will reflect that identity. For instance, what does it mean to be innovative? How does that look in practice? An innovative company might have workspaces where employees can collaborate and share ideas. Company meetings could spotlight workers who came up with great new concepts – whether or not they actually resulted in new products. The company bulletin board (actual or virtual) might feature a list of the new patents you’ve registered. The employee of the month designation could be awarded on the basis of the most unusual or outrageous idea for a new product. You begin to see the possibilities …
3. Be your company’s top model. As you begin to understand the attributes that might characterize your desired culture, you can model the kind of behavior that supports that atmosphere. Need collaboration? Spend time collaborating with your managers and your employees. Want to encourage creativity? When you visit different departments, talk about the great ideas people are coming up with – spread the news that creativity is valued.
4. Enlist others in your mission to positively influence culture. Communicate to your managers and your employees – talk often about the culture you want your company to have and enlist their help. Hold your managers accountable for modeling behavior that encourages your desired culture. Praise or reward employees when you catch them in activities that embody the company culture.
5. Keep up the momentum. Culture is not a one-and-done kind of thing. Just as your family grows and changes over time, so does your business. Night after night, you talk over the dinner table about exciting plans, disappointing setbacks, bad report cards, hard-earned scholastic awards, your spouse’s promotion at work – all the things that make up your family’s evolution. Do the same for your company and do it on an ongoing basis. Make time in executive meetings and staff meetings to talk about events or occurrences that spotlight your culture. Paying attention to them and talking about them keeps culture, values, and mission top of mind for everyone. And your thoughtful efforts – flowing from the top down – will build the culture you want to establish.