Company Culture

How Does Leadership Influence Company Culture?

Kathleen O'Donnell
March 12, 2024
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Companies today are laser-focused on building a better culture in their workplaces, and that’s a welcome development. Culture eats strategy for breakfast, as someone very wise once said, and there’s no question that a great company culture sets your business apart from your competitors. Still, in many quarters, culture is viewed as HR’s job.

But company culture isn’t built entirely in the HR department—leaders across the organization model it, shape it, and enhance it. Leadership and culture are connected. They play a critical role in creating and living a high-performing culture. Without clear and thoughtful leadership guidance, your company culture might not evolve and grow the way you want it to. 

So how can you, as a leader, help build a company where people love to work? Here are the tips and strategies you need to know. 

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6 strategies for leadership: influencing company culture

1. Take an honest look at your current culture 

The road to any successful destination starts with understanding where you are right now—and the journey to improve your company culture is no different. Dig deeply into your existing company culture, which means not just relying on old reports and second-hand info, but talking directly to managers and employees across your whole organization. 

It also requires looking within yourself: how do you, as a leader, shape and drive the current culture? What would you ideally change within yourself to take the company culture in a different direction? These kinds of questions can be hard, but they’re important to reflect on by yourself and ideally as a leadership team too. 

Harvard Business Review has a great breakdown of the eight types of company cultures and how to understand them; this can help you determine where your company currently falls and where you’d like to go. 

2. Communicate the company’s core values 

Speaking and writing about your company’s core values as an internal and external communicator is a critical part of being a leader, but you also have to embody and live them. We’re in an age where leaders are increasingly expected to be transparent and authentic, which means employees are quick to see when you don’t walk the talk. 

How you operate daily, make small and large decisions, treat people on every level of the organization, and the kinds of behaviors you reward and recognize should all be aligned with your company’s stated core values. If they’re not, consider whether the mismatch is easy to fix, or if the core values themselves need realigning. 

Being aligned with the values of your company and your employees is great for your engagement levels as well—HBR research found that COOs who weren’t values-aligned needed a 40% raise to be as likely to stay in their jobs as COOs who were highly values-aligned. 

3. Articulate why employees’ work matters 

Sometimes it’s hard for all of us to get excited about tackling our daily work tasks. Yet again, whether you’re in the C-suite or an entry-level employee, doing work for the sake of getting work done isn’t always motivating. 

That’s why tying what your employees do every day to your larger company goals and mission is critical for leaders who want to build a better culture. And since engagement is a key part of high-performing cultures, it’s one you shouldn’t skip. 

It’s especially important to communicate how your company’s work serves your customers and your community, because that reinforces a culture committed to serving something bigger than just profits. And that’s the kind of culture people want to join and stay at.  

employees talking

4. Create shared goals and processes with your team

A shared mission and purpose is essential, but so is the process of getting there. Employees today don’t want to work in a culture that makes them feel like cogs in a machine, but individuals who make valuable contributions and are valued in return. Creating shared company goals and processes ensures that employees feel a sense of ownership and accountability towards those goals, which is highly motivating and great for performance.

Empower employees and managers alike to suggest and implement improvements to work processes, tackle strategic goals that are in their area of work, and work cross-functionally to solve problems. Avoid micromanaging and blaming, and instead help everyone feel like you’re all in this together, proactively tackling issues and solving problems creatively. 

5. Ask employees how they feel, and truly listen 

In a global Gallup survey, 41% of employees say the one change they’d make to their workplace to make it a great place to work is related to engagement and culture. Employees know what changes, large and small, would make your culture and workplace better—so be sure to regularly ask them and act on that feedback.  

Plus, actively listening to employees and acting on that feedback creates a culture where they feel heard and valued—and that’s great for retention, engagement, and motivation. This requires more than simply sending out that once-a-year employee opinion survey though, as that’s not frequent or thorough enough to truly connect with employees. Holding focus groups, casual chats, and regular town halls are all positive places to start making these connections and gathering feedback.  

6. Recognize people regularly

Recognition is a huge component of creating a great company culture. Leaders have the privilege and the responsibility of modeling regular, authentic, meaningful recognition to their teams and all employees in the organization. Make it a point to offer recognition and appreciation frequently, both privately and publicly. You’re setting the standard for other leaders to do the same, and encouraging managers and employees to offer plenty of recognition on and across teams as well. 

Recognition must be meaningful to be effective, however, so don’t think that just tossing out a few “thanks!” replies to emails will do the trick. Celebrate big accomplishments and small wins, recognize peers and direct reports, and get specific in your appreciation. 

An easy-to-use recognition platform like Bonusly can help you make recognition a part of your leadership and culture and help make recognition efforts more visible across your organization. Everyone can applaud great work and acknowledge milestones together, as part of a high-achieving, supportive, collaborative company culture. 

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The takeaway 

Creating a great company culture looks different for every organization, but one big driving factor in all of them is a leadership team that’s committed to building and maintaining that culture. With a deep connection to your company’s mission and goals, a commitment to communicating regularly and effectively with employees at all levels, and a sprinkle of recognition, you can lead your company into a better culture—one where employees love to work. 

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