Culture

by Jo Geraghty and Derek Bishop

Team leadership in action

From the management point of view, the more that leaders at every level throughout the organisation are involved, empowered and trained, the more they can contribute to the cultural development of the organisation. But from the point of view of these individuals, what specific contributions can they bring to the culture?

The customer dimension

Immediately customer-facing or not, every department has a responsibility for providing outstanding customer service as part of a strong culture, and team leaders can significantly influence how close departments get to the ideal. The following questions might give you pause for thought.

As a team leader do you

  • Prioritise internal processes, such as the gathering of data, over customer needs?
  • Actively seek to collaborate with other departments and divisions to the benefit of customers or operate in a closed silo manner?
  • Encourage employees to take ownership and go the extra mile when responding to customer queries or stick to set procedures?
  • Consider the impact on customer service when new processes and interfaces are designed or go with a system which makes life easier for you?
  • Act as an advocate for customer requirements when speaking to management or palm off customer complaints as one-off incidents?

As team leaders, your actions and attitudes towards customer care will significantly influence those around you. The more you prioritise and highlight customer needs, the easier it is for management to build an organisation which has a strong brand and reputation for customer service excellence.

The employee dimension.

Ultimately, the culture of an organisation rests in the hands of the employees. As we move away from recessionary times, employees can afford to become more choosy about the organisations which they join. Hiring for cultural fit is well up the employment tick list and this works two ways. But even if the fit is good at the start, the way in which team leaders manage employees on a day-to-day basis can significantly influence the culture of the organisation.

As a team leader, do you

  • Work with HR to define the personal characteristics of potential employees or are raw qualifications all that matter?
  • Insist that cultural fit is taken into account when appointing internal and external candidates or simply go with whoever is offered by the job agency?
  • Go out of your way to ensure that new joiners are inducted into the culture, beliefs and values of the organisation or simply point to a desk and tell them to get on with it?
  • Take time to explain, share and involve employees in the cultural development of the organisation or shrug your shoulders and write changes off as management doing something?
  • Back management in their attempts to develop the culture or argue against change?
  • Promote a good work/life balance or expect that people will adopt a long-hours regime if they want to be recognised?

As a team leader, you are the gatekeeper of the organisational culture. How you act and oversee your team will significantly affect the attitudes and behaviours of those around you. The more you act and expect good conduct, the more engaged the employees will be in furthering the cultural aims of the organisation.

Reputation and brand

The stronger the culture, the better the reputation. With brand and reputation increasingly becoming entangled, thanks to social media, the more support you give to building a strong reputation, the better the outcome for the business.

As a team leader do you

  • Continually remind your team of the importance of integrated customer service or just let them get on with whatever approach they feel like?
  • Ensure your team are fully trained in the use of social media and are aware of the importance of not posting anything which could either damage the reputation of the organisation or breach customer confidentiality, or do you let them post whatever they want?
  • Remind your team of the importance of behaving appropriately in any situation in which they could be seen as representing the business or happily let them get drunk on the bus on the way home?
  • Encourage your team to come up with initiatives which could boost the brand or just get on with the task in hand?

As team leaders, you have a responsibility to your team and to the organisation to build, develop and protect the culture and brand reputation of the organisation. In this, you have more influence than top line management, as you are in daily contact with customers, suppliers and the wider world. Using your influence in a positive way can make a huge difference to the external perception of your organisation and in turn that can affect customer take-up, the chance of investment and the receipt of favourable terms from suppliers.

Ethics and integrity

This is an extremely topical issue at the moment, with regulators criticising the leadership attitudes of those who oversaw mis-selling practices within certain financial services departments. As the Governor of the Bank of England said: ‘The succession of scandals means it is simply untenable now to argue that the problem is one of a few bad apples. The issue is with the barrels in which they are stored.’

As departmental and team leaders, do you

  • Promote good practice or accept any means to an end?
  • Argue against unrealistic targets which would put pressure on team members or add to those targets?
  • Provide regular training on areas such as ethics, money laundering, bribery and fair dealing or just tick the box to say it has been done?
  • Push for suppliers to be appointed based on fair price and their own internal culture or recommend those who have taken you out to lunch?
  • Set an ethical example and promote sustainability or give the impression that such matters interfere with the running of the department?

As team leaders you are the conscience of the organisation. You can influence upwards and downwards or you can fail in your obligations to promote a better way of working.

Compliance and regulation

Whether you call it compliance, a culture of ethical conduct or acting in the best interests of the customer or the organisation, whatever field you work in there are inevitably a set of rules which you have to abide by. Your attitude will significantly affect the way in which these rules are viewed within the organisation.

As a team leader, do you

  • Delve beneath the rules to understand and interpret the true meaning and then promote this within the department or complain about yet another regulation?
  • Seek out whatever training is required for your team to be able to comply with regulation or box tick as far as possible?
  • Put a practical interpretation on regulation or go into jobs-worth mode to make life as difficult as possible for others?
  • Seek to influence, guide and modify regulation to the betterment of the customer experience or just ignore it as far as possible?

As team leaders, you are in a perfect position to drive regulation and compliance forward for everyone’s benefit. You are close to customers, suppliers and employees. You can create the future and, in the process, significantly influence the culture, not only of your organisation, but of regulators and the wider world.

Diversity and equality

Diversity and equality encompass a whole range of attributes, from gender and age to disability and ethnicity. In a multi-cultural society, diversity is to be celebrated, but there are still pockets of ‘old fashioned’ attitudes and misunderstandings which can create tensions and disrupt a strong organisational culture.

As a team leader, do you:

  • Promote equality and diversity within the workplace or ignore certain practices and comments which are less than ideal?
  • Test every process modification to see if it meets diversity guidance or just assume that it will do so?
  • Encourage a diverse hiring culture which looks to reflect the customer and local base or consciously or unconsciously hire by type?
  • Ensure employees have the training which they need to meet diversity best practices or consider such training a waste of time?

Equality means helping everyone to make the best of their talents. As team leaders, you are in the perfect position to help, instruct and guide people to do just that and in the process to develop a strong organisational culture of diversity and tolerance.

Innovation

To succeed in today’s post-recessionary world, businesses are increasingly turning towards a culture of innovation. As with any organisational or cultural change, the period of transition brings tremendous challenges and opportunities for team leaders. An innovation culture requires a whole new way of working with collaboration, openness and empowerment the name of the game.

As a team leader, do you

  • Encourage your team members to collaborate and enter into dialogue with other company personnel or do you insist all interactions should come via you?
  • Seek to empower employees to provide improved customer service levels or do you set targets which value speed over service?
  • Encourage the building of a strong relationship with suppliers with a view to co-creating products or do you keep suppliers at arm’s-length?
  • Encourage customer feedback with a view to co-creating products which they need or do you just sell them what you think they should have?
  • Encourage team members to come up with new ways of working or do you insist they stick with tried and tested practices?
  • Treat failure as a learning point or as a reason for dismissal?

New attitudes, new expectations; as a team leader the future of the organisation is in your hands and you can either step up to the innovation culture challenge or see your organisation fade as it is overtaken by more agile players.

Mergers and acquisitions

Whenever there is a merger or an acquisition, or even a reorganisation on the cards, rumour and speculation abound. Employees become uncertain about their future roles, reporting lines change and processes go into flux. Add in the task of integrating two organisations together and of establishing a new culture for the combined business and those who are in a position to influence and to guide throughout the organisation have their work cut out.

As a team leader, do you

  • Seek to calm rumour or to add to it?
  • Actively work out ways to integrate processes or stick to ‘we’ve always done it this way’?
  • Work with management to identify the best person for newly identified/merged tasks or promote the worth of friends?
  • Look to identify potential cultural mismatches and work out the best approach to remedying them or just tell everyone loudly that it’s bound to fail?
  • Welcome new appointees to your team and go out of your way to integrate them into the organisational culture or ignore them?

One of the main reasons why mergers and acquisitions fail is a lack of action to identify and rectify potential cultural mismatches. As a team leader, you have the answer in your hands and success or failure rests with how you promote a strong culture to employees and outside bodies.

And finally

We hope these questions have given you pause for thought. The organisational leadership may ultimately be the ones to decide on the preferred culture for the organisation going forward, but by your everyday actions and attitudes as team and departmental leaders, or simply as key influencers, it is you who will make or break the culture.

A strong culture benefits everyone. It promotes the organisation and the brand, attracts customers and investors, persuades suppliers to give preferential terms and results in engaged employees who work for the long-term benefit of the organisation. By promoting a strong culture you enter a win-win situation in which the business grows and work-time becomes a pleasure.

Simply by keeping your eyes and ears open and acting on anything untoward as soon as practicable, you can be a force for good. But if you take that extra step, you can become a positive and proactive influence, not only within the organisation, but also in the wider business sphere. The cultural challenge is yours, as team leaders, you are its gatekeepers and the future of your organisation is in your hands.