You can’t create the desired culture if you don’t lead it!

 You would have heard the saying before, ‘It has to come from the top’ and how true it is! 

I’m sure this saying can be applied to many different scenarios, however I am referring to organisational values and culture and their strong connection with leadership. 

If the person at the top isn’t prepared to live the organisational values, then don’t expect those underneath to be too excited about living them either, and in fact it will probably disengage them, and encourage  employees to mirror the behaviour of the leader (which is different to that of the values) and therefore shaping a very different culture.


Connection between culture and leadership

Trish touched on the point I am making here in – A Strong Organisational Culture and Sports, where she made the point that leaders strongly influence an organisation’s culture given their authority to reward, direct and control the actions of subordinates.   What are the actions and behaviours of leaders?  What do leaders pay attention to?  What gets rewarded and what gets punished?    That’s how a culture is created, so it is important that the leaders aligns actions, behaviours, what they pay attention to, what they reward, what they punish to the organisational values. 

Leaders will and can make an organisational culture work with and support the business strategy… OR destroy it!  Hence, what leaders pay attention to, what they say, the procedures and systems they implement and who they recruit have a profound and fundamental influence on shaping culture.


How it plays out

How would you react when you are told to do something but the person who told you does the opposite?  It might seem obvious that if leaders don’t live the values they preach then it won’t work but we see this so often.  Imagine starting in a new job in a new organisation and the leader goes to great lengths and cost to educate you on the vision of the business, their goals and how you contribute to them which is great.  The leader also introduces you to the organisational values and spends time and money in really making sure you understand them (usually through role playing and so on), even detail and dictate how it is to be done in certain aspects of work all so you can uphold them and live them - because that creates their desired culture.  This is great! Right!?   Well, it is BUT from what you’ve learnt and seen in the business even in a short period of time is everything but – and from the leader!  The procedures, the systems, the communication, the focus from the leader is not that which the leader expects you to do?  It’s all lip service and looks good for the ‘image’(Beyond the Brand – Behind Closed Doors).  So, do you conform?  Maybe, to an extent probably because you are a decent person and you want to keep your job (for now) but you won’t genuinely live them and the organisation won’t get their desired culture!  Leaders create culture (but culture creates leaders too). Alistair also touched on this last week in – Leadership Development: Close the gaps in your strategy).  So, what is happening is that the leader is actually creating a very different culture to that which he or she is trying to create through the formalised values.  


Benefits lost

So, how crazy is it that by not living the organisational values not only will they fail to get their desired culture; they won’t get their desired financial results either!  Research consistently indicates that strong organisational cultures are associated with strong financial results.   Kotter and Heskett’s performed a study on Corporate Culture and Performance in the US.  Companies that managed their cultures well saw revenue increases of 582% versus 166% for companies that did not manage their cultures well.

Organisational culture is a powerful factor in long term success.  No matter how good your strategy is, people will always make the difference hence Peter Drucker’s saying, ‘Culture eats strategy for breakfast’.

So, make sure if you’re a leader in the business, you genuinely live and breathe the organisational values – then what you create is value!


HR Business Direction can assist with your organisational culture and leadership.


 Leisa Messer BBus(HRM); GradDipIR; CAHRI; IRSQ
Managing Director | HR Strategist
07 3890 2066

Views: 507

Comment by Bernard Keith Althofer on June 19, 2015 at 11:38

In some cases, there is a significant gap between the 'culture' espoused by the CEO and/or executive managers and what happens on the ground.  The impact and significance of unwritten ground rules should not be ignored or discounted.

There may be in some organisations a filtering process as 'expectations' are cascaded down through the various levels of management to workers.  If the filtering process has a manager or managers who do not fully support or understand the 'direction' being set, they may apply their own interpretation and communicate that down the line.  The process continues as the message is received and changed.  In practice, the 'culture' applied on the ground may be significantly different to that stated at the top. 

In some situations, organisations may have well documented systems and processes in place.  However, individual managers and workers up and down the chain of command may for various introduce their own version of the policy and procedure.  For some organisations, the first knowledge of this is when litigation has commenced, and the resulting legal processes identify non-compliance at several levels.

There needs to be processes in place to test the implementation and application of those systems and processes so that gaps can be identified and where required, improvements made.  If people are busy, under pressure, do not see the value or significance of compliance, have not been trained in the various systems or processes, learned from exposure or participation in 'bad habits', and are rewarded for results, then organisations may find themselves in a situation whereby the 'culture' is more about getting the job done, irrespective of the implications, and less about the values of the organisation.

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