Business leaders embrace a variety of leadership styles. Some prefer a flexible work environment, where employees are trusted to come and go as they please, dress casually and focus their efforts on the projects they feel are most important. Other business leaders prefer a more rigid workplace, where employees have predetermined work schedules, a formal dress code, a common objective and assigned tasks. While each approach has its pros and cons, what’s most important is that the leader establishes the culture and focus and then communicates and models these ideals for everyone else in the company.
Every business owner or executive team leader must make three decisions:
- What will your corporate culture look like?
- What will you focus on?
- How will you behave?
If you, as a business owner, general manager or division manager, don’t make these decisions, then someone else in your organization will take the initiative and make them for you. And if someone else establishes the culture, focus and behavior for your employees, you probably won’t be happy.
So, how can you strengthen your leadership role and ensure that your organization’s focus, corporate culture and employee behaviors reflect your values? Use the following four strategies:
1. Create a corporate culture that reflects your vision
Your vision—or your lack of it—will be reflected in your organization’s business. If you don’t approve of your people wearing jeans to work, or if you are dismayed by an employee’s lackadaisical attitude, consider why the situation occurred. You probably failed to set an example of what you want your corporate culture to be, so you invited your employees, intentionally or not, to set the stage for you. Employees need leadership. If you don’t make decisions. they’ll have to fill in the blanks
2. Determine your company’s focus by setting the rules
Do you want your team to focus on customer service? Seeking opportunities for growth? Eliminating overhead? Or expanding the client base? If you don’t determine the top two or three goals for your organization, then the people who are working for you will make up their own—and their goals may not jibe with yours. Or, even worse, each person will focus on completely different, perhaps conflicting, agendas.
For example, employees may focus their energy on projects that do not serve your target customer base, spreading your entire organization too thin. Or they may not be profit-oriented, slowing growth and limiting your bottom line. Wherever you choose to focus your organization’s energy, make sure the decision is clear to everyone. Then establish guidelines and specific tasks for each team member.
3. Model the behavior you want to see in your team
Leaders set the example for their team members. If a CEO is just crazy about e-mail, and he zaps out e-mails all day long, then everyone else in the company will too. As a result, the organization may suffer from a lack of face-to-face meetings. The CEO sets a bad example, and gets bad results.
If you see behavior you don’t like in your organization, first take a look at your own behavior. For example, if you observe that your people often speak abruptly to one another, you must ask yourself if you are abrupt in your own interactions. Do you set an example of flexible, considerate customer interaction? Do your employees? If you don’t, chances are good they won’t either.
4. Communicate your values every day
If you want employees to embrace your chosen corporate culture, you must constantly communicate and reinforce those values verbally, physically and visually. In addition to modeling the behavior you want, reiterate the company’s culture in your newsletter, on your intranet, in your orientation manual, on your Web site and in all your verbal and written communications. Because different people have different learning styles, a combination of reinforcement tools ensures that your message gets across.
Another useful strategy is the use of contrasting examples to illustrate what you don’t want. For example, if a company is in the news for a behavior that goes against your desired culture, highlight it during a meeting by stating, “This is not how we do business.”
The goal: creating a win/win environment
When you use these four strategies to determine your corporate culture, focus the organization on what’s important and establish norms of acceptable behavior, everybody wins. By providing a clear direction for your people, you reinforce your leadership role, strengthen your organization and create a business that is based on the values that are most important to you.