In general, I think conventional wisdom overstates the importance of the top of the organization when it comes to designing and managing culture (just Google “culture starts at the top” to get that perspective). The truth is, culture exists at every level of the organization, and it is shaped and given life through everyone’s behavior. The top can’t single-handedly drive your entire culture.
That said, people do tend to look up at the C-suite behavior when determining what defines the culture. If one of our peers does something contrary to what we said the culture is, we tend to write it off as them having a bad day or something. But if a C-suite member does it, then it’s a clear signal that our culture is changing. So at a bare minimum, the C-suite needs to pay extra attention to the consistency between their behavior and what you want your culture to be. Sorry for the extra pressure there, but it is what it is.
But there’s more to the C-suite’s role than just consistency of behavior. The C-suite is the link that connects strategy with execution and the way they manage setting and enforcing organizational priorities has a huge impact on the culture. The C-suite is also where any internal “silo” issues start, so the way the C-suite defines and lives collaboration is equally huge culture-wise. That means they have a choice: be intentional about how they manage those issues, or let the culture develop randomly. You can guess which choice I think is better.
And ultimately, the C-suite has to own (and be accountable for) the role of organizational culture management. The person running operations or HR may be the most “in charge” of designing and managing culture on a day-to-day basis, but the final accountability still rests with the management team. That means the whole team has to know enough about culture metrics, progress in culture change, and impact of culture on performance that they could confidently tell the board, yes, our culture management efforts are top notch.
Too many management teams, however, don’t do that. They put culture on the back burner, and they delegate culture management to a whole host of lower level people, none of whom have the bandwidth to take care of it properly. We’re now doing coaching for entire management teams to help them not only address internal team functioning but to lean in to their ongoing culture management responsibilities, including clarifying a strategic line of sight and being proactive about areas of “culture friction” that are impeding performance. If you’d like to learn more about how the program works, contact us.
Photo by Rodeo Project Management Software