Cultural Leadership

A manager who uses signals and symbols to influence corporate culture.

One way managers shape cultural norms and values to build a high performance culture is through cultural leadership. Managers must communicate to ensure that employees understand the new culture values, and they signal these values in actions as well as words.

A cultural leader defines and uses signals and symbols to influence corporate culture. Cultural leaders influence culture in two key areas:

1) The culture leader articulates a vision for the organizational culture that employees can believe it. This means the leader defines and communicates central values that employees believe in and will rally around. Values are tied to a clear and compelling mission. Or core purpose.
2) The cultural leader heeds the day to day activities that reinforce the cultural vision. The leaders make sure that work procedures and reward systems match and reinforce the values. Action speak louder than words, so cultural leaders walk their talk.

Leaders can create a culture that brings people together by ensuring that people have a voice in what the important values should be. Managers at United stationers built a new, adaptive culture from the ground up by asking all 6,000 globally dispersed employers to help define the values that would be the building blocks of the culture. Other companies though have found small teams and focus groups that include people from all functions and levels of the company to be more effective than trying to include everyone. Tony Wild, CEO of the pharmaceutical company Med Point put together a team of trusted managers and surveyed key employees who exemplified the qualities managers wanted to see embodied in the culture.

Managers widely communicate the cultural values through words and actions. Values statements that aren’t reinforced by management behavior are meaningless or even harmful for employees and the organization. Consider Enron, whose value statements included things like communication, respect and integrity. Managers actions at the corporation clearly belied those stated values. For values to guide the organization managers have to model them every day. I have the values in my office in a prominent place where I can see then from my desk, and I try to use them as a guidepost for all my decisions, says Christopher Rice, president and CEO of BlessingWhite an international training and consulting firm. I have a group of employees who know [the value] and they tell me every time I violate one, this is good behavior! At MTW Corp, managers work with every new employee to create expectations, agreements, an ever evolving document that ensures that actions and work procedures that reinforce the company’s cultural values will be adhered to by both the managers and the workers. Top executive at Weirton Steel act as cultural leaders by participating in every team training session to symbolize their commitment to a team based culture a significant commitment in an 8,000 employee organization. Cultural leaders also uphold their commitment to values during difficult times or crises. Xilinx, a Silicon valley semiconductor manufacturer is based on a culture of respect and adhered to a strict no layoffs policy throughout the technology downturn by negotiating with workers to take pay cuts. Significantly top leaders took the hardest hit, with the CEO cutting his salary by 20 percent. Maintaining consistency with the cultural values helps organizations weather the storm and come out stronger an the other side.

Creating and maintaining a high performance culture is not easy in today’s turbulent environment and changing workplace, but through their words and particularly their actions cultural leaders let everyone in the organization know what really counts.
Source: New Era Management.