Communication skills turning managers into leaders

Leader Separation: Do You See What I See?

Executive Summary: How leaders and staff see the corporate culture can be two very different perspectives. Being a good leader means listening to learn how the culture is viewed.

At one of my recent corporate training sessions, I was on break and one of the VP’s attending this session on corporate culture came up and introduced himself.  I asked him how he might assess the culture of his corporation.

Without hesitation, he claimed that the culture was very strong.  He cited evidence of great team spirit, high morale and excellent productivity numbers.

A few breaks later I was talking with one of the regular attendees – who is one of those team members.  I asked for her confidential assessment of the corporate culture.

She commented that the culture was OK, but pretty top-down.  Not much listening – more telling.  Generally, she felt a bit disengaged and unable to communicate upward very often.

This gap didn’t particularly hit me until I read a recent corporate culture study by the Katzenbach Center, a division of Price Waterhouse Cooper (PwC).  What they discovered is first, a real decline in the worker confidence about their corporate culture.  Workers are evaluating their corporate culture more negatively over time.

And second, the study revealed a huge gap between leadership and employees about the quality of their corporate culture:  Leadership tends to think that culture is strong while employees think the culture is weak and really needs to improve.  Here are some of the key results of the PwC research:

  • In 2013, 51 percent of respondents felt workplace culture needs to change. In 2018 that number grew to 80 percent.  Clearly, people are aware of culture and want some action about it.
  • 65 percent say culture is more important to performance than an organization’s strategy or operating model.
  • 63 percent of leaders think their company’s culture is strong, yet only 41 percent of their employees believe this is the case. Employees want company culture to be collaborative, innovative, agile and customer-centered.
  • Similarly, 71 percent of C-Suite and board members believe culture is an important leadership priority.  Meanwhile, only 48 percent of their employees perceived that leadership cared about culture.
  • Finally, 87 percent of C-Suite and board members were proud to be part of their organization while 57 percent of employees were proud to belong.

These are some important gaps!  They explain the diverse perceptions expressed in side conversations during my training session – and they are hurting a company’s ability to retain employees and secure their commitment to the company’s mission.

Why do these gaps exist?  Has management lost touch with its staff?  Are staff member justifiably disenchanted and disgruntled with the C-Suite and board?

Because they’re in the trenches, employees see all the warts of the organization:  The petty politics, the drama, the lack of collaboration and innovation.  They see the bureaucracy and the lack of agility.

Most importantly, employees don’t think that management is listening.  Do leaders care how employees feel – how engaged they are in the corporate vision?  Do leaders want to understand what prevents companies from being bolder and more innovative?

Employees have to believe that leaders care about corporate culture, and more importantly, want to do something about it.  When a culture is strong because management and employees work in a collaborative manner, companies perform better.  When culture is weak, trust suffers and the ability to take risks and innovate declines.

As a leader, don’t fall into the trap of wearing rose-colored glasses and thinking everyone understands your vision.  Everything isn’t that transparent to staff in the trenches.

The best leaders take ownership of the culture and dig in, and most importantly, they listen!  Listening and conveying vision across the enterprise is hard work, and may be the most important contribution a leader can make to his or her own company!

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