Many people make the assumption that a bad culture is a direct result of bad leadership, which I have been guilty of doing as well. There is an inextricable link between leadership and culture. I do, however, want to point out an often overlooked distinction about leadership. There is bad leadership and then there is uninformed – or ignorant – leadership. A bad culture can develop from either one.
There are plenty of blog posts out there talking about bad leadership. What it is. What to do differently. I want to talk about uninformed leadership. It has nothing to do with ability, education or even experience. Sometimes it’s simply not seeing the REAL cause of a problem because you are too close to it. Period. It happens to all of us in some area of our lives or another and when someone else points out the solution we have the proverbial “a-ha” moment.
Culture is an agreed upon way of perceiving, managing, behaving and responding to issues, problems, projects and one another – usually centered on a common set of values. There are other definitions that have a broader, more in-depth perspective but this will do for this post. When there is a need to make changes to culture, in other words live by different values, most often these new values are communicated and then monitored through policies. Usually the efficacy of this approach is at best marginal and most likely abysmal.
This approach is the result of uninformed leadership. There are 2 steps to this process: Communicate and Monitor. For the informed leader, these 2 steps are the first and last of a 4 step process. The uninformed leader isn’t even aware the middle 2 steps exist. Today, you will become an informed leader.
Communicate – People need to know what the values are in a clear and concise way. Why do these particular values matter? How are they connected to strategy, vision and mission? What will it look like when the values are honored well? How can it be done in “my” job? How does it affect “my” job? All of these things matter and it should always be a part of your communication efforts.
Implement – There will be early adopters and the “let’s see if it works” crowd. Stop expecting something different. You know who your early adopters are. Just make sure you pay attention to whether it looks like corporate butt-kissing as opposed to genuinely embracing the values. Seeing that it “works” is what will make the next step possible.
Saturate – During the implementation step you would be well advised to tie any successes of the early adopters to their adoption of the new values and make that very public. Don’t just ascribe a win to the values, make a genuine connection. People will begin to see how it’s not only doable, but actually advantageous. Find creative ways to allow the early adopters and the more apprehensive crowd the opportunity to mingle in a way that encourages discussion around the new values. Sometimes peer encouragement goes further than leader encouragement when it comes to change. Don’t let your ego sabotage this. As a leader you don’t have to do it, you just have make sure it gets done.
Monitor – This is where most leaders want to be immediately. This is accountability and it makes our lives easier, so we want to arrive in this place quickly. Once you have successfully gone through the other 3 steps, monitoring becomes much easier and with less resistance. When people have had the opportunity to see the merits of the new values, conversations become more about helping them stay aligned with something with which they agree rather than complying with something that has been thrust upon them.
People having an intellectual understanding of the existence of something doesn’t mean they will arbitrarily comply with it. They may concede their actions in order to keep their job, but without their heart behind it your culture will suffer. We can’t demand a good culture, we must nurture it.
How can this be applied to improve the culture in your organization?