Why Company Culture Work Stalls at the Top

There’s a lot of talk these days about company culture and the need for change in order to improve organizational health and retention. Many progressive organizations are doing company culture work in an effort to increase engagement, fulfillment, and work-life balance. We’ve had quite a few clients come to us who have already done company culture work. They have even utilized Patrick Lencioni’s “The Five Dysfunctions of a Team” . Still, they have not been able to implement permanent changes. Despite their effort, they slide back to old patterns or find themselves stuck in the same place they were before. The reason for this lies at the top – company culture only changes to the level of its leaders.

Let’s explore some of the limitations leaders face when it comes to creating change in their organization.

A Company Culture Must: Going Deep with Vulnerability and Conflict

Let’s face it, owning and operating an organization challenges us at the very core. There is a direct correlation between our own personal development, level of consciousness and ability to level-up and the health of our organizations. Simply going through the motions of culture change is not enough. At the bottom of Lencioni’s Hierarchy of Needs for a cohesive organization is trust. Without trust, it’s all in vain. In order to create trust, we have to be willing to go deep with vulnerability and conflict.

So what does this look like?

As leaders it often looks like owning where we’ve made mistakes and where we can do better. It’s apologizing and not being stingy with showing our true emotions. It also looks like being curious about the perspectives of others before passing judgements. Having difficult conversations with empathy and compassion.

My NLP mentor often reminded me that simply teaching people “what to do” without the “why and how” behind it will never work long-term.

So let’s take a look at the top three limiters that leaders face and how we can work through them.

Number One: Your Level of Self-Awareness and Company Culture

Question to ask yourself: Am I truly aware of how I am being perceived by others? And how do I know?

We first need honest feedback from people who will tell the truth. That means having a willingness to be open to it, even if it’s difficult to hear. In the discovery projects that we do with clients we provide both an anonymous online survey for the entire organization, as well as confidential one-on-one interviews with employees across departments and seniorities. We ask questions about their trust in leadership. About their ability to challenge leadership when things aren’t working. What their perception is of how effective communication is. If leadership appears to be all on the same page, and more.

Many leaders are surprised by what we uncover. The important thing to understand is that your team’s perception of you is their reality and influences how they perform, communicate, and engage.

Number Two: Your Ability to Connect with Empathy

Question to as yourself: Am I fully listening to those on my teams, heart-to-heart, and from a place of truly wanting to understand?

You cannot establish trust with others without the ability to establish rapport. Empathy, if not one of your natural traits, is a skill that can be learned. When you take intentional steps to improve your ability to empathize, it will positively impact every area of your life and relationships.

I talk more about practices to strengthen empathy in this blog post.

Number Three: The Limitations of Your Ego on Company Culture

Question to ask yourself: On a scale of 1-10, how much love do I have for myself?

As humans, we all have three very primary needs. Love, security, and self-esteem. If these needs are not met, we will have a very difficult time being 100% authentic in the way we live and lead. I would even say it is impossible. Our ego will always get in the way, trying to make up for one or all of the needs that are left unmet.

Our ego is that part of us that wants to be right, look like the capable leader, and be in control. It’s what tells us to act like we have it all together or have all the answers. But when we are not being authentic, we are not being true to ourselves or the people around us, and our people can tell.

When we do the deep work to meet these primary needs intrinsically, we remove ego from our communication, decision making, and relationship building.

As a leader, if you want to create lasting change in your organization, you must start with yourself. You have to be willing to do the crucial work of self-reflection and find support to help you see where you might need to grow and how to do it. Only then can you hope to create a company culture that truly puts people first.

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