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Two reasons why leaders must see culture as their job

This week's article is an extract from my recent article for the Association of MBAs and focuses on why you and your senior leadership colleagues must see the development and maintenance of your organisation's culture as a key part of your job.

"Many play into the commonly shared view that 'culture is everyone's job', but this view is too simplistic for such a complex area. We have to recognise that culture is modelled from the top of the organisation, and this modelling by the leaders must continue if your desired culture is going to survive and thrive the rigours of organisational life."

Here are two reasons why leaders must see culture as their job.

Culture will only survive when the leadership community are committed and aligned

When working with clients to help them anchor a new culture, we share the risks of hedging.

Hedging in cultural terms is when leaders take a metaphorical, and sometimes physical, step back to protect their reputation in case the new culture does not take hold.

"What they don't realise or acknowledge is the disastrous impact that their hedging has on the potential new culture. It is completely self-perpetuating. Because those involved don't want to be attached to a culture change programme that doesn't stick, they don't fully engage. Because they don't fully engage, the programme doesn't stick.

"The opposite of cultural hedging is side-bet theory. Based on the work of Howard Becker in the 1960s, side-bet theory tells us that when every single executive is ready to risk their reputation on the new culture taking hold, this significantly increases the chances of the culture change programme delivering a successful outcome."

Leaders must performance manage based on culture

"I have believed for a long time, and still do now, that the most challenging problem for most managers is the high performer with the wrong attitude. One of the most-read articles I have ever written is entitled 'Why a brilliant jerk will ruin your team'. High-performing or experienced people who are culturally misaligned are hugely damaging if not challenged. Not only do they chip away at

your whole culture with their actions and behaviours, but they also give other people permission to do the same. Perhaps worst of all, if left unchecked, they provide a cue to the people with the right attitudes and behaviours that it is time to leave. Over time you lose more of your good people, giving more power to those who don't act in the right way, and inevitably your culture shifts for the worse.

"While this can be a complex challenge, leaders must grasp the gauntlet of takling those people who don't demonstrate the right cultural trails. This shouldn't be seen as a nice to do. It is a must to do. The reality is that if the culture isn't supporting the organisation’s strategic goals, it will be a blocker to achieving them. Those demonstrating and driving unhelpful behaviours must be addressed by their leaders.

"While we may want to believe the mantra that culture is everyone's business, the reality is that those of us in leadership positions carry the responsibility to encourage, engage and enable others to live and breathe the culture. Our choice isn't whether we do this, but instead in the energy and importance we give to it."

In this article, I am highlighting clearly my belief that it is too convenient for senior leaders to point to those around and below them as the reason that their organisation's culture isn't where they want it to be.

Strong culture is always sponsored, driven and modelled from the very top, and starts with you.

If you haven't already bought The Alignment Advantage, you can buy it from Amazon or direct from Kogan Page.

To find out more about the programmes we create with our ALIGNED® methodology at their heart, you can click here.


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