At Walking the Talk, we believe culture is created through the unspoken messages people receive, through behaviours of others , key systems and business processes, and symbols which all send messages about what is valued. It is leaders whose behaviour casts the largest shadow across the organisation, and as such has the biggest impact on culture change.
Looking up for guidance
Every behaviour exhibited in an organisation sends a message, but the most powerful is undeniably how leaders act. What they do is scrutinised more closely and valued higher by employees than the behaviour of anyone else. Employees look to their leader to set an example, to behave in the way they expect everyone else to. So if, for example, a leader spends all their time in meetings with Finance and is rarely seen with anyone else, that sends a clear message about what they value. People quickly pick up on this, ape this behaviour, and a culture is created. That is why the shadow of the leader is so important, and especially in driving culture change. The key is to help leaders understand the impact their behaviour has.
Your actions drown out your words
We often quote Ralph Waldo Emerson in Walking the Talk – ‘Your actions speak so loudly I can’t hear what you’re saying.’ Often leaders don’t realise or fully appreciate how their behaviour is perceived and judged. They often focus a lot on what they want or need to say, yet what people observe them actually doing sends a far louder and stronger message. This is why it’s so important for leaders to walk their talk, for their words and actions to be aligned. If they say recognition is important, they have to do it regularly. Otherwise, you get the ‘say-do gap’, which creates scepticism and undermines culture change efforts.
Understanding your shadow
Given the importance of their behaviour and the strength of the message that it sends, once we have supported an organisation to design its culture blueprint, we prioritise work with leaders. When you’re trying to change culture, leaders must shift their shadow first, so it’s vital they get help to understand how their actions are currently being interpreted, and what needs to be different. How do we do this?
Behaviour creates belief
If people see their leader behaving in a new way, that displays the espoused culture they want, it creates belief that change is possible. It sends a powerful message throughout the organisation not only that expectations are now different, but that we can all shift our behaviours. That example, encouragement and excitement is contagious, and it’s the platform upon which successful culture change is built upon.
For insights on culture view our selection of case studies, ebooks, reports and white papers or contact us to learn how we can transform your culture.