Common mistakes made by executives that impact corporate culture

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Most companies recognize the impact of culture on employee engagement, productivity and performance. But while many leaders think they are cultivating an effective culture, some of their actions are in fact cultural errors.

Take the compliment sandwich, for example. This is when feedback is provided interspersing the “negative” feedback between two compliments. While the intention behind this is great (providing more praise and appreciation than criticism), the implementation can be flawed.

The idea is that this method makes it easier for employees to take criticism, but it’s essential to remember that no two humans are the same. This unique approach can actually have the opposite effect. Your employee can focus only on the negative or positive feedback rather than listening to the full feedback. Also, since it tends to be contrived, it can damage trust and create negative anticipation when employees can sense it coming and just waiting for the other shoe to drop. Leaders may want to have one-on-one conversations with employees about their feedback preferences. Then, they can honor those preferences individually.

There are many other examples of how leaders can inadvertently create cultural missteps, some of which are described here. If you can recognize the pitfalls early on, you can adjust your leadership style and strategy to create the culture you want.

Do not link culture and strategy

Many leaders fail to recognize how essential it is to tie their culture to their strategy. The most effective approach is to clarify your future vision for the business and the strategy to achieve it. Next, think about how your business culture aligns with the execution of that strategy. What behaviors do you expect from your team to achieve this future vision? This process of tying the two together helps you make sure that they’re not working against the grain, but rather that culture makes it easier for your team members to get the job done and be successful.

Going Too Fast To Get True Alignment

Another of the most common mistakes leaders make is going too fast when thinking about the future vision and strategy of the company. Then, not only do they fail to achieve the level of clarity that will help them align, but they fail to ensure that members of the leadership team are genuinely engaged in a way that resolves any issues. confusion or resistance they might encounter. Sometimes you have to slow down to speed up. Spending a few extra hours chatting with the management team about what the strategy really is will not only make better decisions about the future of the business, but will also create a stronger level of team cohesion, which is essential to achieve business goals.

Rely on artefacts

Corporate culture tends to be quite misunderstood, and people like to think of visible artifacts as culture. Leaders often try to create a fun environment for people by setting up a game room or getting a ping pong table. Or maybe they think they can generate some culture by bringing bagels for the staff or having a potluck over the holidays. Authentic culture is more than what you might see on special occasions or the way an office is laid out. Authentic culture is all about the interactions of human beings in their daily work. Sometimes leaders rely too much on artifacts and think having isolated team-building events will create the kind of morale boost they need for an effective company culture. They just don’t understand.

Triangulate (even with good intentions)

One of the most toxic things that happens in organizations is called triangulation. Triangulation is when you talk to someone when you have a problem with them, rather than talking to them directly. Sometimes this can be done in a chatty or obnoxious way, which is obviously detrimental. However, even when leaders triangulate from a place of positive intention, it can harm the culture.

Regardless of the conversation when you are talking about someone, it can erode trust. He also fails to recognize how humans really work. Humans have all kinds of prejudices and lenses that filter information. This means that even if someone tries to share information with you on how you can most effectively communicate with Susie, your relationship with Susie will always be different than someone else’s with her. For this reason, the most effective thing for leaders to do is always to encourage, invite, and even insist that employees speak to each other directly when they are having interpersonal issues. Not only will this increase trust among your team members, but it will free up your time as a leader to focus on more strategic things.

Do not invest

CEOs will often be looking for a simple way to lead a cultural change within their organization, but the problem with this type of thinking is that it represents a fundamental cultural misconception. Culture changes don’t happen overnight, and real change starts from within. For example, suppose you want people in your organization to be more open to change, which is essential because change is constant. In this case, you want to build the capacity to adapt to the culture of your organization as an attribute. By far, the biggest mistake leaders make when it comes to culture is simply not investing in it. Most of the time, the biggest investment is actually the time it takes to have those important conversations, rather than a significant financial burden.

Ultimately, cultivation can become harmful or ineffective if not planned carefully and with purpose. Evaluate all cultural initiatives based on their ability to drive business results, improve lives, and increase employee engagement to determine if they are worth implementing.


Laura Gallaher, PhD, is a leadership coach and organizational psychologist. She is the founder of Edge Gallher.



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