How leaders can impact organizational cultures with their actions and behaviors

Guest Contributorby Lizz Pellet | Posted | Culture

How leaders can impact organizational cultures with their actions and behaviors

The actions and behaviors of leaders used to be hard to observe if the leadership wasn’t transparent or connected with their employees. Not so anymore with the advent of social media.

It’s no longer that serious of a challenge for leaders to have a wider sphere of communication with the social tools that are available. Leaders can’t hide behind the “I don’t have time to travel around and talk with employees” party line anymore.

It lands on a sour note to the people that matter the most, the ones that desire to be in the know and have some contact with their leaders.

The old company wide email just doesn’t cut it anymore either. Innovative and creative organizations realize that with little effort, they can create avenues for dialogue that are inviting, engaging and display effort on the part of leaders that want to be better understood and open to their employees.

How is organizational culture created?

Culture is created by four distinct methods in an organization:

  1. The actions and behaviors of leaders
  2. What leaders pay attention to
  3. What gets rewarded and what gets punished
  4. The allocation and attention of resources

Image credit to Felix Global Corp. 2010

Over the next four months I’ll focus on each method of culture creation and provide a case study highlighting a company’s commitment to the culture they have created.

Case in point: CEO of Zappos, Tony Hsieh

Zappos has taken the lead as a company to look to for solid cultural examples. Tony Hsieh is a role model on how executives shape culture and how being open, direct and available creates a positive cult-like culture and serious esprit de corp.

Whether it’s good news or bad news, Tony positions it in the positive and comes across as authentic. In June, 2012 he had to deliver some bad news to the employees in the Kentucky warehouse facility, the hub of order fulfillment and returns that has been a key to Zappos customer satisfaction success. The Kentucky employees would be transitioning to Amazon because it made more business sense to do so since Amazon acquired Zappos in 2009.

On the same day he delivered that open letter to all of the employees, he tweeted a link to the public as an additional act of open communication.

A key statement in that letter was that it was going to be sad to not to have the “KY friends as ‘part of the Zappos family’ from a legal perspective, they will still be a part of our extended family through Amazon.”

When Amazon acquired Zappos, there were concerns that somehow the Zappos culture would change. It was stated at the time that they would remain intact, so open communication about this shift was of high importance.

Tony uses Twitter as a communication vehicle, often announcing tweetups for employees to join or invitations to participate in the live streaming of quarterly meetings. I attended one of those quarterly meetings on the tail of the Zappos Insight program and believe me – there is buzz, a lot of buzz.

They are very powerful in their message, but more importantly, they are meaningful. By streaming the meeting he is supporting one of the foundational values of the organization, Zappos Family Core Value #6: Build Open and Honest Relationships with Communication.

It’s fascinating how Tony leverages Twitter to communicate his authentic self, not just the standard company speak (not that anything at Zappos is standard) — he puts information and himself out there at the same time.

Here is one of his tweets that deeply speaks to his sincere commitment to sharing information that are aligned to his cultural strategy:

The video is shared via TheAtlantic.com and writer Alexis C. Madrigal introduces it by stating:

This is your moment of Zen today. Two adventurers set out in a canoe and happened upon a starlings (collectively known as a murmuration) doing their amazing collective dance in the sky.

While we can’t all be Tony Hsieh, it would be great if our leaders’ actions and behaviors supported the creation of an inclusive and congruent culture.

Your turn: What is your take on how the actions and behaviors of leaders impacts organizational culture?

For more on organizational culture, watch Lizz’s HR BOLD Thinkers video series where she discusses how to attract, retain and repel the right employees.

HR Bold Thinker Lizz Pellet: How to Attract, Retain and Repel the Right Employees


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HR Bold Thinker Lizz Pellet: How to Attract, Retain and Repel the Right Employees


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