Employment Enterprises Blog

Does Changing Company Culture Mean You Must Change Leadership?

Posted by Sharlyn Lauby on Jan 12, 2017 12:17:01 PM

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A couple of months ago, I wrote a post about how individuals can change company culture. I later received a note on Twitter with a great question:

A change in company culture = A change in leadership. You can’t change the leopard’s spots right?!

At first glance, I would say “yes.” We often talk about how senior management sets the tone of the organization. And when it comes to implementing policies, procedures, etc. within the organization, we absolutely need the buy-in of senior management to be successful.

But then I remembered the Kronos study that addressed “Who Owns Your Company Culture?” In the report, forty percent (40%) of Millennials said that employees define culture. In addition, thirty-three percent (33%) of human resources professionals thought they defined culture. And twenty-eight percent (28%) of employees said no one defines culture.

So does changing senior management create a change in culture. Yes. But changes in key employees could also have a significant change in culture. Maybe it’s not a person’s job title that determines an impact on company culture. Instead, maybe it’s a person’s level of engagement. For example, I’d like to think a very engaged line employee is proud of their work and the contribution they make to the company. They probably have excellent working relationships with their manager and team. If that highly engaged employee leaves, it has an impact.

On the other hand, let’s say you have a disengaged manager. They come into work, hide in their office, and do the minimum to stay off the radar. The employees are an interruption to this manager. If that manager leaves, it will have an impact. Probably a positive impact. But nonetheless, an impact.

Those are the easy examples. The tough example is something like this. When we talk about changing company culture, we’re not always talking about going from a “bad” culture to a “good” one. Sometimes companies need to change their culture because of business model changes or pressure from external factors. It could be that the culture needs to go from “good” to “great.” Or from “Great 1.0” to “Great 2.0.”

In those situations, everyone needs to embrace a little change. It’s possible that a small group might have to be the early adopters in the hopes everyone else will eventually get on board. It’s also very possible that the small group might be senior management. Alas, we get back to senior management again. But I do think it’s a bit different. Yes, senior management is playing an early role. But are they having a lasting effect? If employees don’t get on board with the change, then senior management wasn’t successful.

As organizations become more collaborative and transparent, more and more individuals will impact company culture. While some might have an early impact, others will have a longer-lasting impact. Job titles don’t drive company culture. Individual skills, abilities and engagement do.

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Sharlyn Lauby is the author of HR Bartender (www.hrbartender.com), a friendly place to discuss workplace issues. When not tending bar, she is president of ITM Group, Inc., which specializes in training solutions to help clients retain and engage talent. She can be contacted on Twitter at @HRBartender.

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Topics: Labor & Industrial Insights

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