How Leadership Impacts Company Culture


"Lead by example." It’s a tried and true approach to any leadership role. But just as new parents begin to find their kids picking up on their habits, managers and company leadership can find their employees emulating the behaviors they observe in the workplace. While sometimes this can be positive, there are also times when negative behaviors can develop as well. This then creates a domino effect: Once a few employees begin behaving in a certain way, it impacts the company culture and the entire team.

It’s impossible to expect your team to be perfect, but when you understand where negative behavior begins, you will be better equipped to find solutions. Below we will show you how leadership impacts culture, and how you can steer your team back on course.

The Importance of Onboarding

Onboarding is the process of integrating a new employee to your existing team. This always involves paperwork, and additionally can include a welcome lunch, team orientation, or other icebreaker events to familiarize your new team member with their new work family. The more comprehensive your onboarding process is the better, but too often, even companies that have a great first week onboarding plan fail to keep this momentum going in the weeks that follow.

As employees begin navigating their new role, they tend to lean more heavily on their peers to understand the company culture. This can either be positive when you have a staff you fully trust, or it can leave a margin of error if you have a few employees who don’t always see eye to eye with the company culture. The solution? Keep communication open with your new employee even after their onboarding and observe how they are assimilating with the rest of your team. Sometimes it’s as simple as inviting them individually to their first company event, or recommending a current employee check in on them periodically after onboarding is done. This can hasten an employee’s comfort level with their new company and provide clarity on company expectations.

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Empower Your Team

Every company has a culture, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s being guided by leadership. An unruly company culture can develop when there isn’t a clearly defined message or when the behavior of the upper level staff doesn’t reflect the culture they represent. If you have found your company culture out of control, it’s best to take a step back and observe. In an article about company culture, Forbes recommends looking specifically at how your team interacts, where conflict arises, and how it gets resolved. This can allow you to compare the messages of your leadership and the behavior of your employees, identifying where things get lost in translation. Oftentimes, this is a result of either too much control or not enough of it: Micromanaging creates uncertainty in team members and under-managing can lead to poor communication and disorganization.

You can easily combat this by empowering your team: HR Exchange Network cites responsibility, accountability, and authority as the key drivers of empowerment. By giving employees specific responsibilities, it allows you to easily trace accountability while also empowering each team member to be an authority on their role. This cultivates a spirit of ownership for employees where they can feel proud of their work while also encouraging collaboration between peers who may have different strengths.

(Re)Define Your Company Culture

Lastly, defining your company culture is essential in beginning to build or relaunch it. This starts with a clearly defined mission statement, whether it be an introduction or a reinvention of company values. Every company’s culture is different, so it is important that your message is relevant to your team and is one that they can rally around. From there, it’s a matter of diligence and patience in bringing this vision to life.

This goes back to our previous point about employee accountability. If you currently have one-on-one time with employees, this is a great opportunity to reinforce your company culture and ask for their thoughts. If you don’t, we suggest that each member of leadership schedule time to meet with their respective team members in a one-on-one setting. You can use this time to outline how their responsibilities contribute to the company culture and its vision, giving them a clearly defined purpose within the team. By relating your company culture to each employee’s role, this establishes a sense of community and solidarity within your team. 

Lead By Example

Once you have established your company culture, it’s time for the follow through. Even the best culture can’t flourish if the leaders behind it are not trusted or respected. While there’s no guaranteed way to ensure every employee trusts and respects you, keeping communication open is an excellent way to remove uncertainty. This is another benefit to one-on-one time with each team member: By having a genuine open dialogue with your employees, you are showing that you are invested in their professional success and development.

From there, it’s a matter of modeling the culture you want to see. At Zimmer, one of our core values is passion. The leaders in each department demonstrate that passion for their respective roles, whether for radio, print, or digital advertising. This passion translates to their conversations with employees and it becomes infectious. We strongly believe that when leadership is passionate about their work, it creates an authentic culture where everyone can invest in something meaningful.

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