Oswald Letter

What Corporate Culture Are You Creating?

Earlier this week I was meeting with the CEO and owner of a company when the topic of corporate culture came up. I was interested to learn what the culture at his company was like. As he described his company’s culture, it was evident that many of the company’s traits mirrored that of the owner and CEO. His company’s culture reflected many of his personal strengths, but also, he was quick to point out, it also included some of his weaknesses.

In small and mid-size businesses, it’s common for the company culture to reflect the person at the top. Larger companies often have a very entrenched culture that likely was derived from the founder, but has survived multiple leaders. Of course, each new leader can affect that culture, but if the culture is strong, they can only do so in minor ways.

But what if you’re not the CEO or founder? As a manager, what can you do to affect the perceived culture of the organization? In two words, a lot.

It’s been proven repeatedly that the primary driver of employee satisfaction is the employee’s manager. Employees look to their managers for guidance, affirmation, constructive criticism, and appreciation. The manager has the ability to create a mini-culture within the company for her employees. And the culture that the manager creates and fosters in her department will affect the amount and quality of work done and the satisfaction and retention of the employees who work for her.

So what does a manager need to know and do to create a healthy culture within her department? Here are a few ideas:

  1. “Buy in” to the company culture. Find the elements of the company culture that match your core beliefs and play to your strengths. Pick those elements and stress them to your team. Make sure your people embrace those elements of the culture. If you can’t find any redeeming qualities in the company’s culture, get out. Short of that, create your own healthy culture in your department.
  2. Match your department’s function to the elements of the company’s culture that will make your team most successful. If the company has a culture of innovation, figure out how to harness that piece of the company’s culture for your department’s benefit. It doesn’t matter that you lead a team of accountants who never touch the product your company produces or interact with your customers. Your group can still be innovative accountants (note that I didn’t say creative accountants!). They can find new and innovative ways to do their jobs that can transform their work and help the company.
  3. Do it your way. I want to be clear, I’m not encouraging you to just recite the company mantra. Each of us has our own style. You don’t have to quote the company’s motto to your employees to reinforce the company culture in your department. Take your unique approach and use it to infuse the company culture into your own department. You don’t have to be a corporate bureaucrat to lead in a way that’s consistent with the company’s culture.
  4. Be consistent. A culture is made up of many smaller elements and takes a long time to build. As a manager, you need to act in a consistent manner if you want to create a strong and lasting culture.  A healthy culture is built day by day with consistent, sincere actions. You can’t play lip service to the various elements of the company’s culture. You must “talk the talk,” but, more important, you must “walk the walk.” Show your people through your actions that the culture is important and be consistent in doing so. The company culture isn’t a “sometimes” thing.
  5. Be aware of your own personal shortcomings when it comes to the company culture. For instance, part of your company’s culture may include precision and accuracy. Maybe you’re not a detail person. Or the company’s culture may be one that encourages open, even confrontational discussion, but you’re just not comfortable communicating that way. It’s important that you understand where your personality might be inconsistent with the culture. Instead of creating a culture in your department that is inconsistent with the company’s larger culture, understand your shortcomings and make sure they don’t permeate your department. Find others with the strengths you don’t possess in order for your department to excel in those areas.

Every employee in an organization can affect the company’s overall culture. Take some time this week to evaluate how well you, as a manager, are advancing your company’s culture. Consider how the culture in your department matches against the company culture. Where does your department excel or come up short? How do your specific strengths and weaknesses affect your department’s culture and ultimately its success? And, finally, what can you do differently to improve the culture at your company and in your department? What kind of place have you created in which to work?