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Powerful Leaders Practice the Culture They Preach

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Company culture is more than building relationships and making friends — it’s about dollars and cents. For years now, industries have been struggling to keep and hire workers. A 2022 MIT Sloan study found that toxic work culture, including disrespect, unethical behavior or a lack of diversity, equity and inclusion in the workplace, was the driving force behind the Great Resignation.

But while a toxic culture drives people away, a positive workplace culture draws them in. Promoting team members’ well-being improves relationships and amplifies individual strengths and creativity, leading to more innovation and productivity with less stress and burnout. But people will see through false cultures created just to hire them. If we expect to draw and retain talent, genuine culture is needed: We need to walk the talk and build a company that demonstrates what we are all about.

Transparency in compensation

Since I took my position in a public company 15 years ago, the world has always known how much money I made. To be comfortable with that, I had to put myself in a position where I believed I earned every dollar. If I could not say that, I needed to reevaluate what I was doing. Of course, I made much less money 15 years ago, not because I was working any less, but because the return on investment came into play over time.

This is not to say that I need to make every other person’s compensation in my company transparent. That would be their choice. But I should be comfortable with that information if anyone finds it out. If I am walking the talk — compensating people appropriately based on their investment and role in the company, including myself — there should be no surprises. Leaders need to take on that responsibility.

Related: Leading With Transparency in Times of Uncertainty

Approachability

As leaders, if we talk about communication and expect people to follow, that communication needs to start with me. We need to be open to it, like lanes of fluid traffic in both directions, not stocked up silos hoarding information for ourselves. I need to communicate what will happen to my team and stay open to taking their feedback.

Before COVID, we held monthly half-hour meetings dedicated to these fluid lanes of communication that we called “snapshot meetings.” Since then, we’ve been holding them every week. There are times when people share meaningful stories as well as losses. Sometimes, we may have very little to share, but we still meet every Wednesday and keep that time available. Everyone knows it will be there for them whenever they need it.

Related: How to Strengthen Communication Within Remote and Hybrid Teams

Ensure shared values

We look for similar values ​​when building personal relationships, but this idea is more difficult as a company. I may not expect everyone to share the same politics, but I expect team alignment around certain values. We should all acknowledge the importance of diversity and respect the humanity of each other. We should share a sense of optimism for the company and a desire to contribute to its growth.

As leaders, we need to live the story we tell when a great contributor to our team crosses the line. When the behavior is illegal, that decision is a little easier, but determining when behavior crosses an immoral or unethical line can be in the eye of the beholder. However, if something is clearly over the line in my or my employees’ minds, I need to take action and be consistent about those opinions.

Related: How To Successfully Develop Your Company’s Core Values ​​– And Ensure They’re Practiced

Model behavior

Positive company culture starts at the top. I want to demonstrate to my people that the hybrid work model we’ve built works, and we can do much of our jobs within it, so I live that model myself. This means not spending all my time in the office and encouraging passive learning and soft skills when I am. It’s not always easy getting together with everyone when we’re together but forcing myself to model that behavior makes it easier for others to do the same.

My direct reports should be reflective of that culture as well. Of course, we all make mistakes. I got fooled once into hiring an individual that was a good performer but had an authoritative style. They were not modeling the behavior of inclusiveness and collaboration we had worked to build as a culture, and it didn’t work out for very long. The others rejected and resisted that behavior. Hiring them ended up back firing. I was hardly doing that person any favors by bringing them into an environment where we had such different styles.

Related: 4 Ways Leaders Can Create Award-Winning Corporate Culture

Culture is Contagious

Between work and four kids, I’ve seen many different people growing up in the workforce. In high school, kids learn one way of learning and contributing, but in the business world, all too frequently, that changes to, “I don’t care what you think. This is how it’s done,”, especially in entry-level position. If a company’s leadership is struggling (or failing) to implement a positive workplace culture, these entry-level managers have a huge opportunity to make a difference.

Early mentorship is how budding leaders create their lanes of inclusivity and collaboration and model that. It may not move as quickly through the company as top-down modeling, but evolutions and revolutions have all started from the bottom up. Leaders who reach my level without addressing toxic workplace conditions are unlikely to change. Instead, lower-level leaders can build their own positive culture within their environment. Pretty soon, it spreads to the rest of the team.

So often, we talk about culture but only prioritize it when it’s convenient: This is a substantial economic mistake. Leaders who can foster strong connections to their organization’s culture end up with more engaged teams that attract top talent. An inclusive culture leads to greater company cohesiveness where people want to stay and contribute towards its success. Culture is more than touchy-feely positivity: It’s the cornerstone on which influential companies are run.

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