Top 4 corporate culture mistakes that leaders make

An article from our Cultural Intelligence newsletter...

Over the weekend, I was at a social function when an acquaintance quizzed me on what I did for a living. I shared the fact that we work with leadership teams and their people to help them understand and strategically improve their workplace culture. The response I got after sharing this was not unusual:

'Wow, do we need you at our company!!!'

This is testament to the fact that many organisations suffer from workplace cultures that are less than positive. It raises many questions - a key one being 'Why would leaders allow this to happen?'.  The issue is even more puzzling given that the vast majority of leaders do not deliberately set out to create average cultures.

So what mistakes do leaders make that result in their culture being ordinary? We think there are four key mistakes.

Mistake #1: Thinking that culture is merely a function of the personalities that make up the organisation

Many leaders think their culture is a function of luck or chance. These people feel unlucky if the combination of personalities in the team or organisation results in a poor culture. Likewise, if their culture is positive, they say they are lucky.

These leaders fail to come to terms with the fact that corporate cultures can (and should) come about by design if there is a concerted push by leaders to drive a positive, productive culture. 

Mistake #2: Not making culture a strategic priority

We undertook research which yielded results that make focusing on culture an absolute must. In the research we asked the following question:

If the culture of your workplace was to become as good as it realistically could, how much improvement would there be on people's performance/productivity?

A total 91% of senior leaders felt there would be 20% or more improvement. A total 58% of middle managers felt there would be a 50% or more improvement in performance/productivity. These huge improvement opportunities create a business case for focusing on workplace culture - and we argue that in not making culture a strategic priority, leaders are in fact abrogating a major responsibility. 

Mistake #3: Assigning responsibility for culture change to HR

HR should play a major role in culture change initiatives. Indeed, we have argued in the past that HR have not been fully enough engaged in the culture space. Having said that, to assign responsibility for culture change to HR ignores that fact that leaders need to drive and be committed to culture change. Corporate culture change cannot be sub-contracted out to HR. 

Mistake #4: Not reflecting on one's own behaviours

A real trap that we've seen leaders fall into is having commitment to culture change while at the same time lacking the capacity or desire for introspection. Leaders are the primary (though not sole) drivers of culture and as such, need to consider how their actions, or inactivity, contribute to the prevailing culture. This needs to start with the senior executive team exploring how individuals behave as leaders, how the executive team functions, then flowing down to the next level leaders.

If these four leader mistakes are averted, the organisation is well on the way to ensuring the culture is both positive and productive!

Steve Simpson is an international speaker, author and consultant who works with companies across the globe to help them understand and strategically improve their corporate culture steve-simpson.com. Professional Speakers Australia recently announced Steve as the winner of the 2015 Australian Educator of the Year Award  

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