Transformational change is not possible without a great culture. This is because the organisation doesn’t have the right environment for evolution and growth. How can we ensure that the culture we have, is the culture we need?
Leadership has the biggest influence on culture. It’s the ability to navigate the change, be the change, and maintain the change. Leaders lay the foundation for sustainable growth, and there are three key responsibilities. These are:
- Communicating expectations
- Role model expectations
- Holding others accountable.
The initial step is to articulate and clarify the expectations. Leaders need to paint a picture of where the organisation is going, and ensuring everyone knows their role in this.
This is more than just stating the ‘what’. It’s also about stating the ‘why’. Leaders must communicate why culture is important to us and our purpose as an organisation. We need to ensure that everyone understands how our culture supports our transformational effort and what successful behaviours look like in action. (See more on this in the next paragraph!)
Leaders also articulate the ‘how’ by connecting the dots between strategy and the need to evolve the culture. How will this new culture directly enable us to achieve our priorities? This creates clearer understanding of how changing behaviour leads to the achievement of the transformation.
A survey conducted by Gallup indicates that team members who strongly understand their company’s purpose are 1.9 times more likely to be engaged at work. Clear communication that connects culture to strategy nurtures this understanding. (1)
As part of providing this clarity, leaders need to articulate the organisation’s purpose, compelling vision and core values including the behaviours anchoring those values, as well as the tangible markers of success that stem from the daily embodiment of those behaviours.
Role Model Expectations
For people to understand what’s being communicated to them, they need to see it in action.
Leaders need to visibly role model the expectation and must utilise language that mirrors the evolving culture. Conversations should naturally include these words, blending them into daily discussions to help people become familiar with and understand them better. A common language creates a common understanding, which means that using these words as often as possible makes the expectations tangible.
Another part of role modelling is demonstrating your own willingness to change. This requires humility and vulnerability. A powerful way to do this is to actively seek feedback.
This will create opportunities for leaders to transform as part of the culture journey, but also normalise the natural process of growth and change for others.
Research from the Corporate Executive Board (CEB) underscores that team members who perceive their leaders using language aligned with the culture are 50% more likely to report high job satisfaction and engagement. (2)
Consistency, the third facet of role modelling, holds pivotal significance. Amid the natural ups and downs of change, which can trigger stress and uncertainty, leaders must remain steadfast. Their actions should exemplify the desired behaviours, irrespective of the organisational climate. By embodying these behaviours within the cultural context, leaders cement their commitment to the transformative journey.
Holding Others Accountable
The final dimension encompasses holding others accountable for the culture. Providing feedback is the most effective way to do this.
Aligning accountability structures with culture becomes imperative, which requires there to be equal weighting of results and behaviour in performance considerations. A ‘demonstration of behaviour’ should be a key gateway in eligibility for incentives and bonuses. This creates fair and natural consequences for people to adhere to the culture.
Research by Globoforce and IBM establishes that companies with strong cultures and aligned values have employees who are 3.5 times more likely to feel accountable for their organisation’s performance. (3)
Recognition of progress becomes a final cornerstone of accountability. Celebrating achievements and narrating the journey’s trajectory not only reinforces accomplishments but also ignites collective commitment to the evolution of culture. Recognition is a powerful symbol of what leaders truly value and when we celebrate behaviour, it reinforces the importance of the culture that it is aiming to build.
Achieving transformative change relies on a strong organisational culture. Leaders are the architects of this change. This involves explaining the “why” behind the culture, role modelling it, and offering immediate feedback. Consistency and recognition reinforce the culture’s importance. Through effective leadership, a thriving culture emerges, driving growth and success. By embracing these three imperatives, leaders are ‘leading’ the culture that is needed to give the organisation the best chance of sustainable change.
- Gallup, “The Relationship Between Engagement at Work and Organizational Outcomes”
- Corporate Executive Board (CEB), “How to Foster a More Inclusive Workforce”
- Globoforce and IBM, “The Employee Experience Index”