‘If you build it, they will come’ (and stay)
We’re ending our leadership series by taking inspiration from the 1989 film ‘Field of Dreams’ and focusing on your role as a leader in creating a place where people love to work. If you’ve got a vision for what you want your business to look and feel like, you play a significant part in helping to create the environment so that people can deliver that vision and more.
Whilst employees naturally affect the everyday culture of an organisation, leadership is the driving force for getting it right. According to Gallup, 70% of the variance between lousy, good, and great cultures can be found in the knowledge, skills, and talent of the team leader. So how you act and talk sets the tone for the culture of your business and all the other team leaders that work for you.
Now when we talk about culture, we’re talking about the way people behave and interact with each other, but it is also about the way people feel about where they work. That’s influenced by how you do things as a business: how you make decisions, how you value diversity, the degrees of flexibility and trust that exist, the way you reward people and so on. Although the word ‘culture’ can often be seen as a buzzword or touted around without much understanding or appreciation for its importance, if you actively focus on using your leadership to create the right environment for people to thrive, you will drive business performance and increase profit through a committed workforce and an expanding, loyal client base.
That’s obviously easier said than done and while the task of building the right culture is probably not as tricky as building a baseball field to encourage players to return from the dead, it still requires consistent effort and work. So, here is how you can make a start:
Hire diverse people and invest in them
Your culture is the accumulation of the people you hire and the way they behave so you’ve got to get it right. Don’t just hire people who are like you because you’ll only get the same type of thinking. Challenge your bias and actively look for people who share your values but bring diversity of thought and experience alongside the right skills needed. Then, take the time to develop them. Invest in their learning and growth. Find out what motivates them even after the interviews are done and continually look at how you can create the conditions for them to flourish.
Tell the story, again and again
As the leader, it’s up to you to convey the vision, values and goals of the business. The more you can share the story of what you’re trying to do and share regular anecdotes of when you see it happening in action the more your employees will get it. We’ve already talked about this in a previous article on key leadership ingredients (Mama said Leadership was like a box of chocolates): a great culture relies on you to communicate consistently and often.
Promote and praise positive behaviour
It’s important you call out positive behaviours that are in line with the values you want to see in your business. A survey of professionals by SHRM found 86% agree or strongly agree that employee recognition positively affects organisational culture. So celebrate milestones, offer feedback and promote the right behaviours; by doing this as a leader it highlights that you see your people, you notice their efforts and value their work. That in turn will encourage others to do the same, continually reinforcing the right culture.
Create clarity and set expectations
A culture will flourish when it is set on a foundation of clear responsibilities and expectations. People need to know what their role is and how they can make a difference. Your job as a leader is to define these expectations and then live by them yourself as well. When people have a clear understanding of what is expected of them it enables them to become more engaged in their work and when they see their leaders living up to those expectations too, it encourages them to emulate that commitment.
Nurture and promote wellbeing
Most of us spend more time at work than we do with the people we love the most, so it’s important we enjoy what we do and that we feel safe and supported when we do it. Promoting wellbeing in your organisation is more than just giving away free Fitbits, it’s about ensuring emotional and social wellness too. It’s showing you care about people as human beings, and it’s creating a sense of community and belonging. Sadly, burnout, stress and anxiety are more common in the workplace than ever before so a leader who puts the person before the work will naturally create a more healthy and engaged culture.
You might be thinking, this is all well and good but if I don’t have a clear strategy first, what’s the point focusing on culture? Whilst we like influential management guru Peter Drucker’s famous quote that “culture eats strategy for breakfast”, we like to think that both should sit down together and have lunch. So, while strategy is critical for a leader to focus on, we want to encourage you to consider culture as the mechanism by which you’ll achieve it, so make sure they feed each other.
Your culture will never be ‘done’: it’s a continually evolving state that is shaped by all who work with you and for you. But if you listen to that inner voice as Kevin Costner did and create the right environment through your own behaviours and interactions, you’re off to a good start. Remember to continually be part of the conversation and play an active role in the dialogue your people are having about the business, its purpose and vision. If you do all this, you’ll get a little closer to your dream culture and you’ll find that the right people will come, play for your team and hit it out of the park every time.
And that’s it, if you want to learn more about leadership from creating your leadership brand to defining the right vision, building trust, developing your listening skills to decision making and delegating, check out our other articles in the series. Or if you want support in real life, get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org.