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    Corporate Culture PART 4: Leadership Practices to Drive Culture

    by Kristi Shoemaker / December 26, 2011

    This is part 4 of a 4 part blog series, written by our friends at Brookeside Group, which outlines a four-step approach to measuring and managing this corporate culture:
    Step 1: Recognize What It Is
    Step 2: Measure Organizational Climate
    Step 3: Understand Determinates of Climate
    Step 4: Focus on Leadership Practices

    Leadership Practices

    Research and experience tell us the next step in managing the corporate culture is to focus on leadership practices. The determinants of Organizational Climate provide executives with points of leverage in managing corporate culture. It is the most important determinant, meaning the most important lever is the personal leadership demonstrated by senior managers.

    The best way to get managers to modify their leadership practices is to follow a five-step
    leadership development process:
    1) Identify the specific leadership practices that support the climate and
    culture you want to create. Our research points to a number of practices that
    have a positive impact on each of the six dimensions of climate. These are
    shown in Figure 3. Many of our clients modify this list and develop their own
    “model” of effective leadership.
    2) Give managers feedback on how they are currently practicing the targeted
    leadership practices. If possible, make this part of the climate survey-feedback
    process. If not, conduct additional leadership practices surveys and insist that all
    managers participate.
    3) Provide managers with opportunities to learn new skills and try out the
    desired practices. Train and retrain. Aggressively coach people who are trying
    to change their leadership practices.
    4) Constantly reinforce the desired leadership behavior. Make changes to the
    reward systems, the career management and promotion policies, and the
    performance appraisal processes. Reward people who lead the way you want and
    punish those who don’t!
    5) Model those practices at the top. Walk the talk. Everyone watches the most
    senior levels of management, so culture change always starts at the top.

    We have learned five lessons about how to manage corporate culture.

    1) Tie culture change tightly to improving business performance. Growth
    and profitability motivate change in business organizations more than the desire
    to improve the organization or improve the climate or the culture. People won’t
    see the need or feel the urgency to change the culture unless such change is
    explained in terms of winning in the marketplace.

    Managing corporate culture should be part of formulating and implementing the
    business strategy. The most effective way to tie culture change to business
    imperatives is through the strategic plan. The best plan is one that spells out not
    only what must be accomplished, but how. The how should include directives
    about the kind of internal work environment that must be created if the
    organization is to compete successfully.


    2) Use a climate survey feedback process. The survey-feedback process should start at the top. It should include plenty of diagnosis and analysis, but it should concentrate most
    on action planning. The planning will be most actionable if executives receive
    feedback on the leadership practices as well as their climates.
    The power of the climate survey is that it gives people a common language and a
    concrete benchmark against which to measure progress. Executives respond to
    numbers, graphs, and charts. These make the things that are being measured (in
    this case, the dimensions of Organizational Climate and key leadership behavior)
    more real.


    3) Use leadership training. The use of customized leadership training programs
    is a powerful way to manage corporate culture. Not only does such training
    focus directly on the most important determinant of climate and culture, but if
    done right, it can accomplish multiple objectives:


    – It allows the top management team to send a clear, unambiguous cultural and
    leadership message.
    – If the training includes leadership practices feedback, it gives managers personal
    insights into how they are behaving vs. how they are expected to behave.
    – Training programs are effective forums for people to vent their feelings and ideas
    about the cultural change, helping them to let go of the old and embrace the new.
    – Leadership training can build leadership skills, especially those skills that will be
    critical in the new culture. Training programs are a relatively safe place to try on
    new leadership behaviors.
    – Finally, if done right, a corporate-wide leadership training initiative should build
    commitment to the overall company, exposing people to a cross-section of other
    managers, giving them a chance to think as one company, and hopefully, to
    develop a more unified sense of corporate culture.


    4) Fit the organizational arrangements to the new culture. Another important
    lesson we’ve learned is to move quickly to make the formal and informal
    organizational arrangements consistent with the culture being created. The
    performance management systems should be updated first. The way goals are
    set, performance is appraised, results are measured, incentives are paid and
    employees are coached – these are part of performance management, and they
    must be changed quickly to reinforce the desired corporate culture.


    5) Make the tough people calls. The final lesson is often the hardest for leaders
    to implement. It can mean firing your friends. An essential way to have an
    impact on corporate culture is by weeding out those members of the
    organization who don’t fit, and promoting or rewarding those that do. Both are
    tough calls to make, but both are necessary. We have yet to see a cultural change
    initiative succeed without blood being spilled. It is unrealistic to expect every
    single member of the management team to embrace the new cultural norms and
    imperatives. The leader must lead by making all of the most visible managers
    pass a “cultural values test.” Unfortunately, this test is a very public display of
    the new leadership practices. If managers fail to behave in accordance with the
    desired cultural standards, they need to be identified as failures.

    Conclusion

    Corporate cultures are very hard to change. A culture forms because it works; it fits the
    company’s strategy, it fits with the external environment, and it suits the needs of employees.
    Over time, it becomes self-perpetuating. An organization’s culture attracts certain kinds of
    people. Those who don’t like the culture end up leaving the organization, and those who like it
    stay. Soon most companies get the kind of managers and employees they deserve, those who
    have been attracted by the culture, promoted by it, and who know how to survive and succeed in it. It is not at all surprising that these people will strongly resist making any significant changes to their culture, but cultures can be managed.


    Transforming a corporate culture requires a multi-faceted effort that will likely take not months, but years, and the concept of climate is the place to start. Climate and culture are largely a function of the day-to-day leadership that is practiced throughout the organization. The measurement of both climate and leadership practices will stimulate change, and the use of survey-feedback based leadership training will motivate managers to consistently apply the
    desired practices until the corporate culture needs to change again.

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    Tags: Culture

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    previous post Corporate Culture PART 3: The 5 Determinates of Corporate Climate
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    Kristi Shoemaker

    Kristi Shoemaker

    Kristi is a marketing communications and public relations expert with over 30+ years of experience in a variety of industries. She was an integral part of EcSell's go-to-market strategy and execution from 2008 - 2012. Kristi enjoys taking a holistic approach by integrating all the key marketing disciplines to create synergies that generate maximum results. She is currently the president of KLS Consulting in Lincoln, Nebraska.

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