Want a Singular Company Culture? It Must Come Straight From the Top

Your CEO must set your company culture.

He or she must demonstrate by example and reinforcement the culture they want to see permeate the organization. Alexander Kjerulf, the Chief Happiness Officer blogger, explains it this way in reference to creating a culture of happiness:

If you want to create a truly happy workplace, you need a leader at the top who is 100 percent committed to this ideal. Someone like Richard Branson at Virgin, Tony Hsieh at Zappos or Ingvar Kamprad at IKEA. If such a leader is not present in the organization, you can still create local pockets of happiness in one division or one department, but it will never permeate the entire organization.”

How you can end up with “pockets” of culture

Without executive leadership of your culture, it’s inevitable you’ll end up with culture “pockets” – some good, some terrible – throughout your organization. Regardless, you will not have all of your employees marching in the same direction, working towards achieving the same goal.

Profiled in the New York Times, Ryan Smith, co-founder and CEO of Qualtrics, commented on the importance of his role in creating a culture of transparency:

We’ve been extremely transparent, but not so that we can be cool. And it’s not about an open environment, because that’s not what makes a company transparent. It’s more around the fact that everyone needs to know where we are going and how we are going to get there…

We want to be transparent because we want to encourage our people to have all the information to keep them focused on what really matters — our objectives and how they’re going to contribute…

When everyone’s rowing together toward the same objective, it’s extremely powerful. We’re trying to execute at a very high level, and we need to make sure everyone knows where we’re going.”

How to achieve one organizational culture

Mr. Smith uses transparency as a means of focus, as a tool to keep everyone working on what matters most to the organization – achieving their objectives. Transparency and this singular focus on clearly understood objectives is the key to his company’s success.

That doesn’t mean it’s easy. Sometimes CEOs need to make difficult decisions based on the culture their trying to create. It’s when those decisions are consistently made by the CEO, then the senior leaders and on down the chain of command make similar decisions reflecting the CEO’s desires for the organization.

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That’s the only way to achieve one culture across your entire organization – leadership by example from the CEO, replicated by leadership down through the ranks. Then you engage everyone from the grassroots on up to put that culture in action through their everyday activities, encouraging, reinforcing and recognizing individuals and teams when they live aspects of your desired culture.

Do you have one culture in your organization or culture “pockets?”

You can find more from Derek Irvine on his Recognize This! blog.

Derek Irvine is senior vice president of client strategy and consulting at Workhuman, where he leads the company’s consulting and analytics divisions. His writing is regularly featured across major HR publications, including HR Magazine, Human Resource Executive, HR Zone, and Workspan.