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Small leadership changes that have a big impact on company culture

In a fast-moving environment, leaders are constantly faced with big decisions. These can feel like seismic changes, but it’s often the nuances of leadership that impact morale and productivity most. Small, iterative changes can quickly impact company culture, creating a competitive advantage.

In this article you will learn:

  • How hands-on coaching significantly improves talent retention. 
  • Why empathy must go beyond health and wellness perks. 
  • How corporate values and culture impact a generation of socially conscious workers. 
  • Small leadership changes you can make today, to improve your workplace culture. 

Celebrate Failure to Encourage Continuous Improvement

Companies succeed not because employees work harder, but because they work smarter. In supportive environments employees quickly learn from mistakes in real-time and adapt to future projects with ease. 

Effective leaders continually help employees develop new skills and improve team performance. They also identify or create customized learning opportunities for their staff. However, LinkedIn’s Workforce Learning Report found the number one reason employees give for not developing new skills is a lack of time. To overcome excuses and intentionally facilitate a culture of learning, leaders should:  

  • Facilitate time for experimentation by allowing your employees to try new things while at work. Google famously allocates 20% of company time for independent projects. As employees push boundaries, they will fail frequently but will learn valuable skills along the way.
  • Lead by example. Be real and authentic. Create psychological safety by being the first to share your own mistakes. Here’s where I failed, what I learned, and how it’s helped me going forward. Cultivate and model an environment where failure is celebrated as part of the experimentation process.
  • Coach through both successes and failures. Build a rhythm for your team to review, reflect, and learn from failures together. Approach the topic of failure with an air of positivity. (“Ta-da!” What did we learn? How did we grow? What do we know now? How will we use this going forward?)

Engage Your Employees and Show Them You Care

We don’t live in a 9-5 culture anymore. Healthy work-life balance is essential, but always-on technologies blur the line between personal and business communication. Despite increased connectivity, a recent Gallup poll shows only 34% of the US workforce is fully engaged: “those who are involved in, enthusiastic about and committed to their work and workplace.”

Many companies recognize the lack of employee engagement and hope extra wellness benefits like gym memberships and flexible work schedules will motivate their staff. Although corporate perks might improve employee performance and wellbeing, they won’t necessarily impact emotional engagement. 

For increased engagement, employees need:

  • Two-way communication with management. Employees who feel heard are nearly five times more likely to do their best work. 
  • Ongoing peer feedback and regular manager check-ins beyond their standard performance cycle. 
  • Empathy in the workplace. More than 90% of CEOs say they have an empathetic organization, but only 50% of their employees agree
  • Support in maintaining a healthy work-life balance. Glassdoor surveyed employees and found 87% expect their employer to be supportive of their personal commitments and the non-work areas of their lives.

“A simple but often forgotten task for busy leaders is to check in with their people! Stop and ask how they’re doing, how their kids are, how their weekend was. Find out what they care about. Acknowledge their strengths and accomplishments. If you don’t know, ask their manager. This goes a long way toward feeling valued and appreciated, rather than just a cog in the wheel. Showing you care only takes a few moments but creates a cumulation of goodwill, and elevates company culture.”

 ~ Christina Sanders, Executive and Leadership Coach, Torch Coach Community Manager

CSR: Be an Agent for Social Good 

Spearhead initiatives that give voice to your employees. While corporate social responsibility (CSR) requires organizational buy-in, individual leaders can make a difference. Listen to your staff and share their social concerns with your executive team. Recent studies show employees feel more invested and conscientious about the impact of their work than ever before. In fact, more than 75% of Millennials consider a company’s social and environmental impact before taking a job, and 75% would take a pay cut to work at a socially responsible company. 

CSR is so important to some employees, they occasionally stand together and force corporate accountability. In a high profile example, thousands of passionate “Googlers” effectively forced their leadership to abandon renewal of its Project Maven contract with the Pentagon to build drone AI.

As an executive leader, you can proactively reinforce corporate values and avoid forced change by showing your team how they are making an impact. When setting goals, shift your team’s focus beyond the “what” and the “how,” to your corporate vision of “why”. Connecting individual tasks to big picture shows your employees the work they’re doing matters. As a benefit, understanding how they fit into the puzzle typically results in higher levels of engagement, productivity, and retention.

Cultural Alignment = Your Actions + Their Perceptions

As a leader, you are a core element of your company’s culture. The small actions you take now can have a lasting impact on employee morale, recruitment, and retention rates. And remember, your staff is always watching, so make sure your actions and their perception of your actions are aligned. Cultural alignment creates happy workers, who are 12% more productive, and perform 20% better than the competition. 

Who doesn’t want their employees to perform 20% better than their competition?

Implement a few of these changes today to start influencing your culture and increasing productivity. 

For more inspiration on how to improve yourself as a leader, we recommend checking out our 18 Leadership Books For Every Stage Of Your Career ebook.