4 Ways Leaders Undermine Company Culture Without Realising It

By Steph Von der Heyde | Culture

Jul 24
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The role that your company’s management and leadership play in the corporate culture cannot be overstated. Culture is a very complex thing and even subtle mistakes -especially when made at the top – can cause damage over time.

Here are 4 common mistakes that even excellent leaders make, despite their best intentions.

Sending the message that it’s not okay to be relaxed or unhurried.

This is such a simple one, but it’s so difficult to get right on a cultural level.

Most people, and most of your staff, will unconsciously view stress as equivalent to productivity. Management, too, will often encourage the most visibly stressed and busy employees rather than the more relaxed and unhurried ones.

A continuously stressed office is not a place people want to work at long-term and, on some level we all know that ‘busy’ and ‘stressed’ do not always equal ‘productive’.

You also want employees to know that you value people who can stay on top their work without reaching panic-mode, because these are the true top-achievers.

Stress is inevitable in an office setting but it’s not an achievement in and of itself.  Be careful not to reward it.

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Killing ambition with stretch goals.

If ambition and drive are behaviours you want to encourage in your company culture, be wary of the way you use goals and targets.

Ambitious organisations use stretch goals to challenge their employees to test their limits by setting idealistic outcomes. This is great stuff.

Unfortunately, though, many performance management processes undermine this culture by disciplining employees for missing their goals (giving low achievement ratings, lack of positive feedback, goal-related bonuses, registering disappointment and so on).

Not only does this demotivate employees but it’ll also mean that they’ll eventually start trying to adjust their goals to be more achievable.  To cultivate ambition you need stretch goals, and for stretch goals to really work, employees need to feel that a swing and a miss is 100% okay if the goal is big enough.

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When SOPs stifle agility.

SOPs (standard operating processes) and policy documents are wonderful things – but their shadow side is that they can inhibit agility if you’re too precious about them, or enforce them too harshly.

Most companies want to encourage agility as part of their company culture as adaptability is critical if a company wants to stay relevant and keep ahead of market changes. Simplifying processes, quickly adopting new plans and keeping a positive attitude toward change is a crucial part of remaining agile.

So, while SOPs are very important, be careful that management doesn’t get too hung up on them and that you don’t come down too hard on your team for making mistakes when adopting new processes, as this will undermine your agile culture and generate an attitude that fears change.

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Inverting innovation.

Almost every company and manager wants a culture that breeds innovation, yet innovation and progress require a degree of risk taking and experimentation that many companies aren’t comfortable with.

If you’re serious about an innovative culture, employees need to feel supported by the company when taking considered risks, conducting experiments and failing.

Disciplining employees on bad outcomes that are related to risk-taking and experimentation is going to erode this trust and make other employees less inclined to go out on a limb in the name of progress.

It only takes one public incident to unpick employees’ trust, so be wary of the way you react to mistakes that are the result of risk taking behaviour. You need to be prepared to support employees – especially when the risks don’t pay off – if innovation is a culture trait you’re trying to encourage.

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