Leadership and Culture

Leadership and Culture

Laying a foundation for sustainable business growth

Deciding on the company culture is the precursor for selecting and developing leaders.  The process must be decided or owned by the CEO. It must project into the company values, the talent acquisition, onboarding and compensation and benefits.

Many clients ask me how it is possible to scale a sustainable business and grow market share.  Of course the answer is not simple but a foundation piece is deciding on the components of the company culture.  Regularly, the first response from the client is to ask about the outlying high performer.  “….we have this high level contributor but she does not necessarily fit into the culture of the company…would you suggest letting her go?”   

As the leader of an organisation what would you do in this situation?  In many cases there is coaching, mentoring, training available and sometimes an outlier can be turned.  However, high performers quite often have inflated egos and confidence levels that are difficult to turn around.   High performers are worth trying to save and bring in line with the company culture.  If you can do this then you have the best of both worlds; a great contributor and a role model.   If after a lot of effort this has not been achieved, then you must act so that the company culture and strategy for growth is maintained for the medium and longer term.  Don’t let the current quarter target jeopardize your vision.

 The components of corporate culture are well documented but include:

·         Innovation

·         Attention to detail

·         Emphasis on outcomes

·         Emphasis on People

·         Teamwork

·         Aggressiveness

·         Stability

The degree to which you prioritize each of these components is important in determining the unique nature of your company culture.  It will decide the beliefs and values. It will decide who you hire and don’t hire.  Who is promoted within and who is eased out. 

The implementation and interpretation is clear to all employees who will determine quickly whether these are just words or an actual integral part of the company fabric.  Therefore, do not set standards you are not willing to back up with day to day practices and processes.  You need to be prepared to incorporate the vision and the values into everyday speaking and decision making. 

“We are going to do this because it is consistent with our company culture.”

“We are hiring this person because she exhibits and shares our company values.”

A further example could be: if “emphasis on people” is ranked extremely high as a cultural aspect but there is little investment in HR processes and practices to create a strategic HR function then all efforts to project the image that “people are important in our organisation” will be met with cynicism.  Hiring intelligent, young people requires open and honest communication. 

One client I worked with could not understand why they were able to hire in such great young talent but maintained a relatively high attrition rate of 18%.  The explanation seemed obvious.  The training budget was always one of the first to be cut.  The hours expected to be worked each day did not support work-life balance.  There was little empowerment at the lower levels in the organisation.  The result: low level of employee engagement and doubt in “the company philosophy”.

Once you have decided on a real company culture and set of values you are sure you can live and breathe, it is time to develop or hire in the best leaders or people that match the culture.  The interview and selection process has to incorporate the culture and objectively test if there is a match. 

Many times this is done subjectively using “gut feel”.  Of course many positive articles have been published about making decisions by gut feel.  However, increasingly this can be augmented by using tools and interview techniques.  Your interview and selection process should have specific areas included which target ascertaining the exact nature for the criteria required to support the culture.

As an example let’s consider the popular company value of “Team Work”.  It is one thing to say that one of our core values is Team Work.  However, to make this a living breathing value you need to determine what exhibiting good Team Work looks like in your business.  It could be internal communication criteria, customer service metrics, collaboration with colleagues, response times on service requests or timely and accurate data completion in the CRM or ERP systems. 

What this means is that a person who is good at team work in Company A may not be good at team work in Company B.  Therefore, during the interview process testing the cultural fit criteria with the correct context is critical in the selection process.  You can do this through psychometric testing but my preferred method is by asking for examples of previous experience which point to the relevant behaviours for your own business.

In Conclusion: if you want to build and scale a business it is imperative for your as the leader to establish a solid foundation of company culture.  The culture must be alive and woven into the everyday decision making and business practice.  It determines behaviour. What is acceptable and what is not.  It is not trivial and a lot of thought and collaboration needs to be done so that all members take it seriously and believe that it is the “company way.”

Find out more on how I can assist your business with Leadership and Culture


“How small business culture can create success”  Adan Colgate

“What is Leadership” Kevin Kruse