I don’t claim to be an expert on culture or leadership, but I’ve been asked to play one on a recent ChannelPro webinar. Like many of you, I have learned a lot of lessons and I thought I would share some of them with you.
Being in several peer groups, I have had the opportunity to work closely with about 30 business owners. I got to know them, I traveled to their offices, and I got to know their employees, too. We did peer reviews and got a sense of their company cultures. One common characteristic I have found is that the culture I experience during visits always seems to match the personality of the business owner. Energetic, laid-back, caring, cheap, extravagant, all-business, work hard – play hard, faith-oriented… you get the picture. Over the years, the leaders of these organizations hired people who aligned with the culture they lived, and they built companies in their image.
While there is a company culture for large companies, it can vary by location and even by department. I would argue that company culture is largely influenced by the local leaders and managers. That’s why hiring the right leaders for your team, who align with your culture, is even more important. While ultimately it is everyone who, like a single thread in a tapestry, comes together and creates the culture, it is the leaders who must influence it the most.
Culture is not words on a wall. Slogans and core values can help to align culture, but they do not define culture. You align by how you work together. It’s how you act. It’s how you lead your team. Much is not spoken, it is observed and it is experienced. I’ll give you one small example. I once had a boss who ran to the phone when it rang. It was probably a customer needing help! It didn’t take long for even new hires to start doing the same. My boss didn’t say “answer the phone”. He just did it, and we all learned. Such a simple lesson.
Due to the challenges of COVID, and with so many still working remotely, I find myself needing to intentionally verbalize how we need to work together because the opportunity for others to observe and participate is so much more limited. We have all-employee Zoom meetings, cross-department meetings, multi-location meetings, process improvement committees, Zoom happy hours, and all kinds of software tools to bring us together. Despite this, I am especially concerned about new hires and how we can help them align with, enjoy, and participate in the culture we have built.
I’ll give you another example. My daughter graduated from Penn State, and I remember going to see a football game in her first semester. When my daughter joined us at our tailgate she had her face painted blue and was surrounded by a group of other crazy college kids. Wow, I thought. It didn’t take long for her to catch the school spirit (culture). Now, contrast my son who started at Penn State this past fall. No sports, no group activities, little classroom time, can’t visit other dorms, limited group dining options; essentially zero “college experience.” The sense of tradition is there, but the culture is not the same. How could it be? What will be the impact? My daughter never wanted to leave PSU. Will my son even want to return next year? Tying this back to our businesses, will your new employee feel connected and committed in the new normal?
You, your leaders, and your more senior employees must be intentional to bridge these gaps and find a way to maintain the culture you have worked to build for so long. Regardless, I miss the interaction, the casual conversations, and the sound of laughter across the office. I eagerly look to a return to the old normal.
If you have a way to create and align culture without experiencing it together, please share your ideas! We are Better Together!