Crushing Corporate Culture From The Top Down

When I talk to the leaders of companies who want to be employee focused and have a great culture I tell them to remember one thing: Culture grows from the ground up but can be crushed from the top down.

I’ve seen it happen over and over. The leader of a company is too good/too busy to join in on an employee driven initiatives (pie-your-manager for a cause day, a wii tournament, company picnic…you choose). They repeatedly don’t show up or don’t participate and wonder why employees slowly stop coming up with ideas for culture initiatives. 

Great companies like Zappo’s, FatWallet, and Google weren’t great by accident. They were that way because the leaders of the organizations worked hard to support cultural initiatives that their employees were starting.

Take Tony Hsieh from Zappo’s. Rumor has it that he’s shy, quiet, doesn’t like the spotlight, and struggles in group settings. Yet he understood early on that he single-handedly has the ability to foster culture or crush it. He chooses to go against who he is, to show up to company functions, to participate in culture events all because he understands that each and every employee is looking to him to figure out the standard for who they should be at work.

Crazy, isn’t it? But as the leader of your organization people get their social cues from you. I once saw the leader of a company roll his eyes at a limbo stick that an employee was pulling out at a grill-out. Faster than you’d ever believe, all the employees who a second earlier were ready to limbo fell out of line and the fun died off.

As leaders in an organization everyone is looking to you to see how you react to different cultural initiatives. If you roll your eyes, others will follow. If you join in, others will too.

Think about what this means for your organization and never forget how much influence you have over the culture you so badly want to create.

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About Marisa

Marisa Keegan is a leadership coach, trainer, and HR consultant for quickly growing organizations who are passionate about strengthening their employees, their brand, and their culture. She has helped lead the HR, culture, and engagement initiatives at two nationally recognized great places to work; Rackspace as Culture Maven and Modea as Talent Manger. She is an author at Fistful of Talent and Culture Fanatics. Marisa has her Masters in Industrial Organizational Psychology and currently lives with her husband and twin boys in Richmond, Virginia.
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