Leadership is the primary driving force behind company culture. In a thoughtful piece for the Harvard Business Review, Jim Whitehurst, the CEO of Red Hat, one of the leading providers of enterprise IT products and solutions, argues that changing a company’s culture isn’t easy, but involves changing how the employees of that company behave and think. “Culture,” he argues, “is a learned behavior, not a by-product of operations.”
Leaders Shape Company Culture
Leaders play an integral role in this process, influencing company culture through their own words and actions. As Whitehurst puts it, if you want to create an “innovate” culture, you can’t simply decree “go innovate!” It is the combined product of embraced behaviors of the entire corporation from the top down.
Companies like Amazon are excellent examples of creating a thriving culture of innovation. They have implemented an organizational model where employees aren’t afraid to fail. Jeff Bezos, Amazon’s founder, and CEO has instilled a core-belief of innovation and risk-taking amongst his employees. Bezos has stated if his employees have a one-in-ten chance of making a one-hundred-fold return on an investment, they should make that bet every time. This acceptance – and even embracing – of failure has promoted the innovate culture that continues to drive Amazon today.
What Can Leaders Do to Enact Change?
When it comes to driving culture change, leaders play a critical role. This begins with using their behavior to set the tone for what’s acceptable within a company. This is especially true for start-ups, such as Amazon. “The moment you found a company, culture comes into the conversation,” says Lisa O’Keefe, Senior Advisor of Talent and Engineering Culture at Pritzer Venture Capital. The more that leaders can share a company’s core values, the more likely that according to O’Keefe they will “become a reality and not just these random words uttered without meeting or random quotes on a wall.” The key according to Nancie Evans, VP Client Solutions at Culture-Strategy Fit is to be authentic while at the same time living the values consistently day in and day out…no exceptions and no excuses!
Enacting change, or instilling values, can only occur with a proactive drive from the top. By identifying and consistently acting in a way that makes your core beliefs and aspirations real, it is possible to create genuine change in an organization. Taking a vested interest in helping employees grow and thrive, for example, can create more motivated employees and boost production. This investment in the development of “human capital” goes a long way towards creating a culture of engagement, inspiring all within its structure and forming a discernable company ethos.
Similarly, as more leaders realize that their employees can provide valuable insights into their corporate culture, they can encourage employees to become an ambassador for their brand through social media channels. This creates not only publicity for the brand which helps to attract new talent, as well as a sense of solidarity and ownership in employees but also has the benefit of increasing the authenticity of social media posts.
Inspiring cultural change can seem like a daunting task, but it doesn’t have to be. If you need help defining or improving your business’s culture, check out some of Culture-Strategy Fit’s leading-edge cultural products and services, or give us a call today at 1-800-976-1600 for a free consultation.