How Great Leaders Build the Culture of an Organization

Every country has its own culture, its own system of beliefs and values that make it unique. Even if two countries speak the same language, are in similar regions, and hold the same common values, there are still concrete differences between them.

It is the exact same with organizations. Every organization does things a little differently, holds different values that push it towards its desired goals. The culture of an organization makes it what it is. As a leader, it’s your job to help shape this culture and keep the organization on track. But how can you do this in an organic way that won’t alienate your workforce and throw your organization into an identity crisis? Here are a few tips:

1)   Know What You Have to Work With

If you’re moving into a position of leadership in an new organization, you need to take steps to understand the already existing culture of the organization before you can take any steps to change it.

As great as it would be if you could just come in and completely change the culture of a company instantly, organizations, and more importantly people, don’t work like that. Over time, the culture of a company becomes ingrained and as much a part of the company as their product. Trying to change that without understanding why things are the way the are is a fool’s errand.

Get to know the culture of the organization, what works and what doesn’t. Rather than try to impose your own values instantly, instead work to change the parts of the culture that aren’t helpful to the organization. People can be highly resistant to change, even when that change is obviously positive. Instead of imposing it on them, invite your employees to work with you in developing a move positive, productive, or dynamic way of doing things.

2)   Great Leaders Exemplify the Culture

Authenticity is a word that gets thrown around a lot. As a leader, being authentic to the culture you put into place is absolutely essential for that culture to succeed. You’re the leader, so you are the one setting the tone.

Let’s say that you are trying to develop more transparency within the organization. Ok, that’s great, but if you are the kind of leader who keeps everything behind closed doors, it won’t work. Your employees will see that you don’t exemplify the trait of transparency and this hypocrisy will derail your attempts to build it into the culture of the company.

The best way to develop an authentic organizational culture is to chose values that already align with who you are and what you value. You’re the leader, the example everyone looks to. So, do some deep reflecting on yourself and find the values that matter the most to you. If you are someone who loves collaboration, then that would be a value that you should develop in the company. You won’t have to make a special effort to exemplify certain behaviors if they are already an integral part of who you are.

Basically, it all boils down to talking the talk and walking the walk.

3)   Make the Right Hiring Decisions

Hiring is more than just picking out the best qualified person for a position. Just because someone is perfect on paper doesn’t mean that they are a good fit for the culture of your company. They could be talented, smart, and hard working, but if they don’t believe in the core values of your organization, they probably aren’t the best person for the job.

This is why it is important that you don’t just ask questions about their qualifications. You want to get to know who they are. Ask them questions about their past employment to find out what their motivations are. Ask them what kind of a place and culture do they see themselves working in next.

Remember that the culture in an organization is more than just you. It is made up of the behaviors and beliefs of everyone who is employed there. You want to hire those people who will compliment, or even add to, your organization’s culture. Hiring someone whose personality or motivations run contrary to the kind of culture you’re trying to develop can only lead to difficulties for both you AND them.

4)   Let Things Evolve

Things change without us even trying to change them. That’s natural and can be a positive thing or can be a major problem in an organization. It all depends on how you’ve nurtured it.

As you bring in new employees, they will bring new ideas and energy into your organization. This can greatly affect the culture as these new employees find their place. That’s great, as long as those ideas don’t directly clash with the type of culture that you are developing.

Within your culture, certain values should be non-negotiable. These are the core values of the organization. Outside of those core values, however, you should allow the freedom for things to change. Let your employees try out new ideas and ways of doing things. If they work, great! If not, reset and go back to what previously worked.

If you clamp down too hard on your organization’s culture and refuse to give it room to grow, you will also be restricting its room to thrive.

5)   Communicate with Your Employees

Have you ever felt disconnected from the organization you lead? It’s a very common problem. It’s lonely up there at the top and that kind of isolation can lead to you becoming disconnected from the very culture that you are working to develop.

The importance of communicating with your employees is essential to avoiding that state of affairs. You need to clearly communicate what you are trying to do with the organization, allowing your employees to engage with your vision rather than just trying to figure it out. Now, if you lead a larger organization, it can be impossible to learn the names of every employee, but that doesn’t mean that you should forego a connection with them.

One of the greatest leaders in history, Henry V, used to go out and talk to his troops in disguise, to see exactly how things were going in terms of morale and belief in the cause. I’m not suggestion putting on a fake mustache and heading to the lunch room, but there is a great deal of wisdom in keeping the lines of communication open between you and those who work for you. Just hearing how everything is going from their point of view can help you keep connected to what it is you are trying to do.

It is a poor leader who doesn’t focus on the culture of their organization. Developing a positive and productive workplace culture often makes the difference between a thriving company and a dying one. By developing it, you will be bringing your own values to the organization. So, keep authentic and develop a workforce that reflects the culture you are trying to create. Those shared values will help drive your organization towards success.

Contact Kathleen Joy, CEO of Lumiere Work, or learn more about how great leaders build the culture of an organization here.