A strong positive corporate culture is essential to building organizational resiliency. The foundation of what enables a culture to thrive is the extent to which employees are empowered, engaged, feel valued and their concerns are heard. This is where leadership plays a fundamental role. Through extensive research, my own experiences in healthcare leadership, and coaching for dozens of organizations over the past decade, I’ve narrowed the focus of leaders to seven essential elements.
Purpose defines our core reason for being and the positive impact we have on the world. It shapes strategy, inspires employees, engages customers, provides a moral compass in moments of truth and is essential to culture. It is the reason a company exists.
The 2019 Business Roundtable released a remarkable document that demonstrated how corporations need to move away from profits “first” to a more balanced view of a commitment to all stakeholders. Businesses that do best are those where the purpose and profitability are aligned – and the way you make profit by living your purpose.
Embed resonant purpose everywhere. Leaders must make the purpose clear, positive, and personal such that is resonates with every employee.
I frequently tell my executive coaching clients, “Your job is to work your way out a job every day.” Empowerment is more than giving another authority, it is about having employees feel ownership in the business outcomes leaders strive for daily. It is about the employees’ growth, independence, and autonomy.
Create an environment where your employees can speak freely. Allow employees to speak to their minds without fear of reprisal, rebuke, or retribution. When employees can voice their concerns freely, organizations see increased retention and stronger performance. It is those same voices that bring forth new ideas for innovation and adaptation, the final leg in the journey to organizational resiliency.
Community and collaboration
Hire people who are not like you and embrace diversity of strengths and personality. When you include others with traits different from your own, you expand the capacity of your team. Embrace diversity and inclusion because it is the right thing to do and it achieves better outcomes; recent research clearly yields organizations with diversity perform better than those without it.
Foster collaboration. Very few of us work in a vacuum and the ability to work effectively across the company is a required attribute of remarkable leaders and employees. Leaders need to encourage connectivity and meaningful work relationships to create a community that cares about the success of the company.
Transparent and proactive communication is another crucial element to building a strong culture. As a coach, I find many family owned or closely held firms do not share financial information very far “down” in the organization, but they expect leaders and managers to direct functions, projects, and programs that have significant impact to the financial health of the company. While complete financial transparency may not be an option, I have seen time and time again greater accountability when more information is shared.
Share the challenges and opportunities ahead. I was CEO of a 200+ bed hospital when the parent company went into bankruptcy because of a crushing debt load. You can imagine how the rumor mill started to grind. I discussed the various alternatives with the leaders and managers, so they could be reassured of a viable future. Then I had town hall meetings to tell the line staff what I knew and what scenario I thought was most likely to occur. The rumor mill died, and trust was built even further. We came out of that bankruptcy stronger than ever.
Vulnerability and character
Do not equate vulnerability to weakness as too many executives do. Vulnerability builds trust and trust builds great teams. Being vulnerable means leaders admit their shortcomings, ask for help, rely upon others, and own their mistakes. Being vulnerable builds your credibility and adds positively to your character.
Remarkable leadership is about EQ, or emotional intelligence, not IQ. Emotional intelligence accounts for 80% of the success of a leader. In fact, what gets executives fired most often is not about profitability or strategy, it is about character. It’s about self-awareness and managing your behaviors. Being authentic means staying true to who you are, what you do and who you serve. In an environment in which more human elements matter, it creates value and benefits for your followers as well as improving your business.
The most important asset to any company’s success is its employees. It defies logic that any company would not invest in their development, yet altogether too many employers see benefits, training, or even concern for their well-being as only as an expense to be managed and minimized. While today’s pandemic has momentarily altered the near-term strategy for many employers, their employees will always be what matters most.
Invest in employee development. 70% of an employee’s development should be through on the job activities, tasks, and assignments. The challenge I see daily is too many executives fail to brainstorm the means to develop their employees.
Every company has external customers and when organizations focus on providing remarkable service and exceptional products, employees take more pride in the work they do. Those engaged employees also generate more profits through increased productivity, less accidents, and loyalty to the employer, resulting in reduced cost of turnover. Leaders must also take a broader and more strategic view of customer centered approaches to the multiple stakeholders associated with sustainable success.
Align resonant purpose to your customers and stakeholders. Great leaders seek feedback from customers and stakeholders directly, as it provides them with invaluable insights and perspectives. It also helps leaders understand if the company is making progress on achieving their purpose.
Final thoughts on culture shaping
Building a strong positive culture takes time and many efforts, both large and small. The greatest asset and greatest Achilles’ heel of any company is its culture. It is the beating heart of any organization. Leaders must listen to it and note the irregular rhythms. Once heard, the seven elements of shaping the culture must be woven together to form an impenetrable fabric of success for employees and stakeholders.
Leaders must also role model the behaviors to bring the seven elements alive. It is not what they say, not what they intend, it is how leaders behave – the actions they take – that defines them as leaders and impact their culture most.
Learn, then lead.
Craig S. Juengling, PCC, is a credentialed executive coach who spent 22 years running hospitals and health care systems. Craig maintains a private executive coaching practice in New Orleans and is also an executive coach and academic contributor to the Flores MBA Program in the E.J. Ourso College of Business at LSU.