How to build a great company culture from one CEO

I recently wrote an article about Poor Company Culture: It’s time to assess your leadership team. I received a lot of great feedback from colleagues, senior executives and CEO’s.

One CEO, Jonathan Richards of Breathe, having read my article echoed that culture starts with the CEO and their job is to help it flow through the business. Jonathan said, “As a CEO, this piece resonated with me as it helps to underline how important my part in the organization’s culture is. The point this article makes so well is that having leaders who believe in the mission and values will hugely motivate and energize the entire company and can have a positive effect on the bottom line. I recommend that all CEOs should read this article”.

Jonathan recently published The Do It Yourself manual to Nailing a Company Culture. There’s a lot of synergy between both articles and made for a perfect combination of how a company culture should be if done right with the right leaders in place.

With that said it only made sense to get his perspective as a CEO.

What is most important in a company culture?

Authenticity – every company has a culture. Some are deliberate about their culture. It’s important for leaders to be true to the culture and nurture it so it don’t feel forced.

How are problems solved?

Communication is key.

At Breathe, we try to catch potential issues before they become actual problems. We do this through weekly one-to-one meetings between team members and their managers – whether it’s coaching or simply touching base, we strive to create and nurture a supportive mind-set. This creates a dialog of openness for our employees which helps the team leaders remove any potential roadblocks. Being ‘in the know’ gives the leaders awareness of what is going on around them and as a result they can help to spot potential issues before they arise.

Do you think it’s important that CEO resolve problems they identify or should they empower their teams to solve them?

CEOs need to empower their teams through building trust. While the buck stops with the CEO, it’s important that they do not become a dictatorial leader. This may work in the interim, but eventually it will create a toxic environment where people are micromanage and lack autonomy. It’s much healthier to inspire and empower your teams to do the jobs they were hired for.

Does hierarchy play a significant part when it comes to company culture?

Yes, if hierarchy is too big or deep, it slows down communication and can damage a healthy culture. Although hierarchy is undoubtedly necessary for effective decision making, it can have a negative effect if it’s not managed properly.

Is a growth path important for creating a great culture for your people?

A company’s culture and its growth path do not necessarily need to be interlinked. Constant promotions won’t magically improve culture, but creating a positive culture and an environment where people genuinely feel appreciated, valued, recognizing their work and achievements is crucial.

Do you think an organization’s values and its culture should be aligned?

Yes. As a company grows, its culture and values evolve with it. Company values should be one of the pillars of company culture – the companies DNA that reflects the people behind an organization. Our recently published Culture Economy Report revealed that half of the UK CEOs we surveyed believe their employees have difficulty in connecting their work to a company’s purpose and values. Its important to constantly assess to the extent to which they are true to their values to ensure they are not lost or diluted as a company grows. leaders need to ask themselves “does our culture genuinely reflect our values, who we are and what we stand for?”

How important is it to have a culture talk with senior leaders?

It’s very important and there is no excuse for not having these conversations. Culture tends to start at the top and trickle down the business. Leaders should therefore lead by example and embody the culture they want to permeate. For example, if you are rude to colleagues or deflect blame onto others, then the middle managers will do the same. This will spread across your workforce, creating a hostile and disconnected environment. This can have an adverse impact of how your company achieves it goals.

How do managers and senior leaders obtain buy-in from a CEO which supports their ideas and decision making?

The starting point is for a CEO to recognize that their management team members require buy-in in order to support their strategic and tactical thinking and decision making. How? It all comes down to trust. Starting from a position of facilitating discussions, through a CEO’s own humility, vulnerability and openness while utilizing the brain power in the room. They must understand that to do their job, they need input from senior leaders and by the same token, senior leaders must have the courage to let their voice be heard.

How important does on boarding a new employee in terms of introducing them to a company and its culture?

It’s essential. If we go through all the motions around deciding what person we are going to hire, then don’t on board them properly, they have been set up to fail. The on boarding process is the employee’s first impression of the company, and if it is done badly it can leave a bitter taste in their mouth.

In closing, as previously noted, all culture is unique and its important to remember that Culture starts and end with the CEO. As the CEO it is crucial that you assess your organization culture by working closely with your senior leadership and human capital teams. It’s essential for your organization growth and success.

By Nadidah Coveney

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