Experts in Front Line Leadership

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Want a great culture? Focus on these three things

The culture of your organization will either ensure your long term success or potentially leave your organization vulnerable to external threats. An effective culture leads to innovation, agility, great customer service, higher profit margins and high employee engagement. A weak culture creates and reinforces resistance to change, erratic financial performance, high employee absenteeism and turnover, and poor customer service.

Most culture change takes years to take hold (if it ever does) because management is often reluctant to address the most significant obstacles. However it can be accelerated if you target three main areas. The suggestions below are based on observing the behaviors of senior leaders in various companies and locations, research on how manager and leader behavior impacts their departments and overall company culture scores using validated models.

1. Drive for results combined with high-touch

The most consistently outstanding financial performance, employee satisfaction and culture scores can be linked to leadership behaviors that combine tenacity and focus on results with strong positive relationships and interactions with employees. Using a combination of formal and informal communication along with a rigorous focus on standardized work and continuous improvement can create a great culture and a great organization. Think lean without the mean.

2. Screaming and disrespectful conduct is not tolerated

The organizations with the best culture scores and long term track record of success do not tolerate any abusive leadership behaviors including screaming or yelling at subordinates or treating them in a demeaning or disrespectful way. In our experience, managers and supervisors with these traits can change, however rebuilding trust is a long, difficult journey. Whether it is addressed through training, coaching, reassignment or termination, any tolerance of these behaviors will drag the culture lower and keep performance from reaching its full potential. And these behaviors cannot be tolerated between employees and colleagues because the resulting conflict and lack of trust will block teamwork and limit performance.

3. Communication is the secret sauce

The second highest ranked motivator identified by employees is feeling that they are included in what is going on. To feel like an important part of the team, the employee needs to receive communication and be asked for their input. Using a combination of formal communication (newsletters, town hall meetings, small group discussion) and informal communication (conversations with managers as they interact with employees) – employees are keenly interested in how the organization is doing and the outlook for the future. This takes time, and the best leaders make the time to do it. They either invest more of their time, or they get so good at delegating less important tasks to lower levels in order to free up their time to do this. Any leader who stays in his or her office instead of mingling with the troops will never have the depth of relationships that truly motivate employees.

How good do you have to be?

During some recent training on the linkage between a manager’s or leader’s behavior and the impact on his or her department it was quite a surprise. Simply being above average, say having a 4 or 5 in a 7-point scale, often caused an incredible impact on culture. Only managers and leaders scoring a 6 or 7 out of 7 had the kind of positive impact that creates exceptional culture. This is not meant to discourage – simply to reinforce that truly exceptional leadership is required to create exceptional results and the best culture.

Our culture sucks but we make lots of money!

Companies can make profits for lots of reasons – few competitors, superior negotiating skills, proprietary technology, economies of scale. And some companies can confuse cause and effect, thinking that their aggressive or passive culture has made them successful when in fact it was other factors. This usually becomes apparent when the winds of change start to blow and the company can’t respond quickly or effectively enough.

It can be a challenge to change the culture when things appear to be going well. The symptoms of dysfunction are often apparent but ignored because the bottom line is strong or sales are growing rapidly.

Putting Ideas into Action

If you a senior leader in your organization, evaluate yourself and your leaders on how effective they are in the three areas above. Admit to your own short comings and get the training or coaching you need to make improvements. You will start to see an impact right away.

If you are a middle or front line leader, work on your own behaviors first. It is possible to create a positive sub culture at a departmental or divisional level.

Think someone else in your organization needs to read this, please send it along.

We can help you in a number of ways – training, coaching, measuring. It starts with a conversation.

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