Tone at the Top……..

This week’s Connex roundtable discussion on The Board and CEO’s Role in Shaping Company Culture got me thinking…

Company culture is everything

It’s potentially the single most important thing to get right as a Chief Executive leading an organisation regardless of size or industry. It’s the rallying cry that everyone looks to. It’s the stake in the sand that should galvanise your employees, your customers, and all the other stakeholders with which you interact on a regular basis. 

Company culture is defined by its leaders and board setting the ‘tone at the top’ – which Bill Michael, KPMG’s recently departed UK Chair, obviously misjudged.   In every company, employees will look to their leaders for the example they set.  How do they act?  How do they communicate?  What do they actually value? Are they living and breathing their corporate values?

All of this is a beacon that proclaims this is how we do things here. The CEO, executive leadership team and the board itself – the culture that they instil in the organisation will filter down the chain of command and impact every single aspect of the organisation – whether they like it or not.

Why is this important? Cultures can make or break organisations because they directly affect the experience that your end user is going to have when engaging with you. It will be the thing that your company is known for and what will resonate with them as they think about your services. It’s an advert for your company – forget what is written in traditional review sites like Glassdoor as they can be easily manipulated, what would your employees (whether past or present) say about your organisation – that is the real litmus test.

To understand just how important it is – consider what happens when you get it wrong.

I am sure I am not the only person who has kept abreast of the shenanigans across the pond! Here is a perfect case study over the last four years with the most controversial president the United States has ever seen – Donald Trump. What does this have to do with company culture you may ask? Trump made his way into the Oval Office and sought to impose his worldview, way of thinking, and ethos on his administration and, as a result, on the rest of the American people. He instilled his own company culture.  It’s clear that the culture he chose was divisive, self-congratulatory, combative, and inauthentic – and this filtered down into every part of society across the USA. The public conversations were tainted with his rhetoric and his supporters rose with vigour and verve to violently attack ideas they disagreed with. In a very short space of time, his company culture turned America on its head, for worse – I’d argue.

This happens on a much smaller scale every day in companies and organisations – I am sure we can all think of examples. The way that the CEO and Board act dictates how the company acts. The culture, ethos, and values that are espoused from the top attract like-minded people and turn away those who disagree.

Those leaders that understand this and are willing to do the difficult internal work to develop a company culture that they can be proud of tend to find themselves winning over the longer term as they build something that carries the operating philosophies and values they brought to the table.

Those that don’t realise this, tend to be dumbstruck at declining employee morale, high attrition rates, failing revenue  and a general regression that they try to ignore or blame others for.

As a board member, or as CEO, what are you doing to build a company culture that sets you up for success?  How are you deploying empathy, respect, grit, confidence, and all the other aspects that make your organisation somewhere that people enjoy coming to?

It’s something worth thinking about.

Join Connex Housing Leadership Network at our next virtual roundtable taking place on the 26th of February, 2pm to discover how the C-Suite and boards across industry are meeting this challenge and building a company culture that withstands business disruption whilst enabling strategic transformations.