Thursday, May 28, 2015

What Leaders Should Know About Company Culture

Guest post from Michael Lee Stallard:

Company culture is a hot topic among today’s leaders, and rightfully so. Because it influences how colleagues relate, or fail to relate, to each other, culture affects the effectiveness of teams and business units, ultimately influencing the bottom line.

But company culture can be an intimidating topic for many leaders because they lack a framework and language to discuss the phenomenon they see happening in their organizations every day.

The following terms can help you to better grasp what company culture is, how to influence it, and the type of culture dominant in your organization.

The Three Types of Social Culture

When we discuss company culture, we are really discussing a social culture, meaning the norms for how members in a group relate to each other.

Since social culture ultimately comes down to relationships, company cultures tend to fall into one of three categories:

1.    Culture of Control – In this type of culture, people with power, influence and status rule over others. It creates an environment where people fear to make mistakes and take risks. It is stifling – killing innovation before people are afraid to speak up. Employees may feel left out, micromanaged, unsafe, hyper-criticized, or helpless.

2.    Culture of Indifference – In this type of culture, people are so busy chasing money, power, and status that they fail to invest the time necessary to develop healthy, supportive relationships. As a result, leaders don’t see value in the relational nature of work, and many people struggle with loneliness. Employees may feel like a cog in a machine, unimportant, uncertain, or invisible.

3.    Connection Culture – In a connection culture, people care about others and care about their work because it benefits other human beings. They invest the time to develop healthy relationships and reach out to help others in need, rather than being indifferent to them. This bond helps overcome the differences that historically divided people, creating a sense of connection, community, and unity that is inclusive and energized, and spurs productivity and innovation.

Creating a Healthy Culture

As evidenced by the descriptions, the third type of social culture listed above is most likely to result in long-term success for both individual employees and the company as a whole. So how can you foster a healthy, connected culture?
It’s important to note that connection cultures do not all “look” the same. Each company will have its own unique practices and traditions. Having a foosball table in your break room, a casual dress policy or a “flat” corporate structure are not requirements. 

Instead, leaders should focus on strengthening the following elements of a connection culture:

1.    Vision – A great company culture has a strong sense of purpose. Why do your employees show up every day? Do they understand the end goal of their work?

2.    Value – Great company cultures also value people for who they are, not simply for what they do. Build meaningful relationships with your employees, and give them opportunities to build relationships with each other.

3.    Voice – Giving people a voice, although not necessarily a vote, in decisions creates a healthy dialogue and allows important insights to flow up and down the chain of command.

By strengthening vision, value, and voice in your organization, you will help your employees build stronger connections and create an environment where people and ideas thrive.

To get started, take this nine-question culture quiz to gauge what type of social culture is dominant in your organization today.

Michael Lee Stallard, president of E Pluribus Partners and cofounder of, speaks, teaches and coaches on leadership, organizational culture and employee engagement. He is the author of Connection Culture and Fired Up or Burned Out. Follow him on his blogTwitterFacebookGoogle+ or LinkedIn.

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