Cultural Alignment and Leadership

Well-Meaning but Damaging Culture

Dave Hatfield, the IT Manager at Blumfirth, Inc., was late to the morning team meeting. The rest of the team had been waiting patiently in the small conference room since 8AM. Some of them were chatting, others were checking email, or browsing on their phones when Dave finally burst in.

“I’m sorry, I’m sorry,” Dave said, flinging his jacket on the back of one of the empty chairs. “I was stuck in an early meeting with Rich.” Rich Bancroft was Blumfirth’s CEO. “He’s so weird sometimes. Do you guys ever feel like that? He wants us to participate in the Staff Appreciation day down at Mallard Park, which is fine I guess. I tried to explain to him that we have so many other things to do. And, I mean, we’re ‘I.T.’, right? Like we don’t want to be at the park. We want to be working on our projects, and making progress, ya know? But whatever. He wants us there, we’ll be there. Don’t feel like you have to stay the whole time though, honestly. Just show up, make sure some key folks see you, and then you can get back to work. I’m not going to ask you to stay the whole day. That’s fine for them but we have better things to do, and let’s just focus on us.

Now, that’s a pretty blatant example of insubordination. It’s not uncommon though.

Many middle managers adopt that attitude – the attitude of “if we just focus on our business unit, we’ll be fine. There’s no need to engage in the politics or culture of the rest of the organization.”

There are a lot of problems with that. One significant consequence of such an attitude is a fragmented, inconsistent, and unhealthy organizational culture.

Gary Larcenaire, CEO Valley Behavioral Health, described the phenomenon in his LinkedIn article “Modern Behavioral Health Leaders.” He states:

“I have seen these poorly trained leaders resist all efforts for central branding and congruence and want to be left alone to develop their tribe in isolation. Their teams do tend to be fiercely loyal to the local managers but will express extremely negative views about “leadership”… It isn’t necessary and it creates damaging (gap widening) inconsistencies in the brand experience…

“Some … managers may use the maladaptive ‘us vs administration’ to produce what appear to be highly productive and cohesive teams, simultaneously fearful and resentful of ‘administration’.”

Who is Responsible for Organizational Culture?

As a Leader, the Culture in your Organization or Business Unit, is a direct reflection on the quality of your leadership. That may be tough to hear, but it’s true.

Ultimately organizational culture is defined by the organization’s top leadership. However, each leader within the organization is responsible for how that culture is interpreted and applied within their business unit.

This is why alignment among leaders is so important. A well-meaning, but misaligned leader (such as Dave Hatfield in the introduction) can created problems by promoting a culture within their business unit that conflicts with the overall culture of the organization.

Simply put, the attitude that you adopt towards your organization’s culture will be mirrored in the morale and sentiment of each of your team members. If you treat the organization’s culture as a “necessary evil”, then so will your employees.

Align your Leadership with your Company’s Culture

What does it mean to embrace your organizational culture? It means that your own professional efforts are in alignment with the core values, mission, vision, and policies of the organization. That includes your leadership goals and objectives.

Understanding the type of culture your organization employs can help you to ensure personal and business unit alignment with that culture.

Types of Organizational Culture

Broadly speaking, there are four types of organizational culture:

  • Entrepreneurial – These companies are characterized by an emphasis on creativity, innovation, and risk taking. High-tech, and market-leading firms often adopt this culture.
  • Bureaucratic – These companies are characterized by formal organizational structures and the implementation of stringent procedures, norms, and rules. Organizations that use this culture often require high levels of consistency (think regulations), and high ethical standards.
  • Consensual – These companies emphasize loyalty and tradition. They encourage employees to stay with the company long-term and generally promote from within. The military is a prime example of this culture type.
  • Competitive – These companies emphasize capturing and maintaining a competitive advantage and market superiority. These are often fast-paced, and high-stress environments.

In addition to these, organizations can demonstrate a combination of two or more types, though usually one type is more dominant.

In Conclusion

You won’t always agree with your company’s strategic decisions, or get along with senior leadership. However, acting out against your company’s culture is myopic and damaging. It is damaging to the company, to you, and to your employees.

The better way is to embrace the company’s culture, and to promote it to your employees. When they see your dedication, they are more likely to be dedicated themselves. By strengthening yourself, you strengthen your business unit, and your company as a whole.

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