Shaping Culture: Leadership
A while ago, a client asked me after conversations with leaders on his team and his peers, how do we know if the work we are doing related to culture is working? Annual employee engagement surveys and related pulse surveys are one approach to measurement but they were looking for other indicators that they could assess more regularly. They recognized that they couldn’t coast from survey to survey and hope for the culture they wanted to see in their organization.
Of course, it helps to have a strong description of the attributes and behaviors you expect to see in your desired organizational culture. Without this, determining progress toward the desired state will be nebulous, arbitrary and frustrating. In my advisory work with organizational clients and my coaching work with leaders, influencing culture is a common theme, but knowing how to assess it and what to measure can be elusive. Given the nature of my work related to leadership, it won’t be a surprise that one of the areas I recommend using as a gauge of culture is leadership so that’s where we will start in this article series on assessing and influencing culture.
There are a variety of tools that can help leaders and organizations understand how their leadership is being perceived, where they are most effective and opportunities for growth. The list of potential leadership assessments is long and it can be hard to know where to start. Working with a coach, consultant or internal HR resource who has expertise in a variety of tools can help you make an informed decision about which tools and approaches will be the most productive for your organizational needs.
While pulse surveys alone aren’t likely providing enough information to understand the nuances of your organizational culture, they are helpful check points, especially when combined with other tools. There are two aspects to leadership and pulse surveys. One is the responses from employees on how leaders are doing on connecting teams to purpose, living the organizational values, and communicating and how these change over time. The other is what leaders do, together with their teams, with the data from the surveys. If team-level action planning based on feedback isn’t part of your engagement or organizational health survey work, you may be missing a big opportunity for leaders and teams to take accountability for their roles in shaping organizational culture.
I recently met with a leader to review his team's pulse survey results. In the results was an interesting and important team-level trend that the leader had overlooked: people are stating a higher openness to leaving the organization than they were six months ago. While the entire organization was showing an increase in this area, this particular team also reported higher than the organizational average. With this data in hand, I was able to coach the leader toward next steps, which included increasing one-on-one conversations with his team, stay interviews, and building a more intentional retention strategy for key players on the team.
Both leadership assessments and pulse surveys provide opportunities to build on what’s going well. They are not just about finding gaps or deficits. It is important to use both tools skillfully to reinforce and support what is going well in your organization as well as addressing areas of need. However, if assessments or surveys uncover a significant disconnect between leadership behaviors and the desired organizational culture, leaders and teams may need additional support to move the needle.
Just like surveys and assessments, coaching is a wonderful approach to build on strengths but it can also be very effective in addressing a targeted need and skill development. A skilled coach can work with a leader to use the information gathered in the surveys and assessments to create a personalized plan to find alignment with their personal values and approach and the desired organizational culture.
The influence that leadership has on organizational culture cannot be overstated. Even in organizations that are seeing steady progress toward the best version of their organizational culture, leaders know that it doesn’t happen without intention, processes and systems to reinforce it. That’s why we will be talking about communication, talent development, innovation and more in future articles in this series.
If you want to read more about leadership and culture, here are a few resources that you might find useful:
Start with Why, Simon Sinek
Dare to Lead, Brené Brown
The Culture Code, Daniel Coyle
Radical Candor, Kim Scott
Connection Culture, Michael Lee Stallard