The feeling you get when you build a great culture is extraordinary. It creates a sense of unity, excitement, and unbelievable pride. People typically light up when they talk about a great culture — I know I do. There is often a sense of community, a feeling of real ownership, and personal dedication to something larger than us.
While many leaders have focused on building or changing their culture (…or shifting, evolving, transforming, whatever term is meaningful), it’s time to take it one step further. It’s time to be deliberate about protecting our culture too. To protect is to keep safe from harm or injury. Thinking about it this way evokes a different emotional reaction. A sort of protective instinct about something we don’t want to lose.
There are cultural threats and risks all around us. Sometimes, it’s one big thing that invades the culture. Other times it’s many small things that slowly chip away to create an underlying threat. In any case, part of our job as a leader is to wrap our arms around the culture and keep it safe from harm. And when we make a conscious decision to protect our culture, it becomes an unwavering commitment.
So, what are some of the things we can do as leaders to protect our culture?
1. Set the bar high. Use cultural expectations and leadership requirements as a way of making informed hiring decisions. It’s always worth an upfront investment to find the right fit.
2. Stand up, speak up. When someone is not living up to our cultural values and expectations it’s our job to confidently and respectfully challenge them. This is where having each other’s backs is important.
3. Exemplify the behaviors. We’re always watching our leaders. Being a role model will help to instill the same sense of protective instinct in employees.
4. Create support mechanisms. Ensure that your organizational practices support the culture. The weakest link theory applies here. Invest time in aligning expectations, metrics, and rewards.
5. Use your leadership life lines. This isn’t exactly like Who Wants to Be a Millionaire, but close enough. Maintaining the integrity of your culture is a big task, but you’re not alone. Talk to a peer, engage your team, consult with a trusted advisor, or turn to your community of leaders for ideas and support.
6. Demonstrate the courage of your convictions. It takes courage and personal resolve to have difficult conversations, consistently make tough decisions, and carry out the actions. This is where real leadership lives…and a culture worth protecting needs great leadership.
What experiences can you share? What else would you add to the list?
Audra August is a Principal, Succession & Talent Planning with Knightsbridge Leadership Solutions. Audra works with organizations to build strong leadership capacity. Her areas of focus include succession management, team effectiveness, and organizational development. Audra can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and @AudraAugust on Twitter.