106 Communications

6th Sense

Leadership and Culture: reflections over breakfast

March 2015 | 106 Breakfast Series, Culture, Employee Engagement, Leadership

On Tuesday 17th March, we held the first 106 Breakfast event in the private dinning room of the Wolseley.  Our theme was ‘Leadership and Culture’, and we were joined by senior HR and business professionals from banking, accounting, healthcare, education and law, as well as Mihaela Berciu, a Leadership Breakthrough Specialist.

Our starter for 10 was a view on how culture is defined by four key factors:

  • The actions and behaviours of leaders
  • What leaders pay attention to
  • What gets rewarded and what gets punished
  • The allocation and attention of resources

(Felix Global Corp, 2010)

After a lovely breakfast, we set about discussing the importance of leaders in driving the culture of an organisation.  We promised not to reveal who said what (and which organisations they work for).  But here are the key discussion points.

Values – The experiences here can vary massively.  Some leaders get it, and that’s evident in some big companies and newer businesses; for some, though, there’s work to be done to help leaders understand what values and culture mean to the organisation.  After all, how are leaders often judged?  Simply, the numbers.

Numbers v Humanity – We do see some leaders hiding behind the numbers – or some who are not comfortable standing up at the Town Hall and inspiring the audience.  This lead us to think about whether certain people who are promoted to the big job are necessarily suited to it – despite their obvious technical excellence.

Importance of Legacy – One of the interesting concepts Mihaela talked about is getting the leadership to think about legacy.  Of course, you are appealing to the ego, but this can be an important step in helping leaders make the breakthrough.

Sense of belief and purpose – Building that sense of purpose is often easier within newer and smaller companies; much more difficult in big, complex businesses.  We also observed that often leaders in big companies will impress in the way they talk about the strategy and purpose of the business, but it doesn’t necessarily translate as it cascades down the organisation. Is this because leaders don’t necessarily connect with the next levels of management?

Middle management – So we come to the much-maligned ‘middle managers’.  This is often a crucial audience in cascading purpose, belief and values – and can be a problem.  Why?  Middle Managers feel pressure from below as well as above; plus they are also trying to navigate their own way up.  Perhaps the issue here is that the importance of values and culture are not made relevant to them; and if they take their steer from the way leaders behave, they may only replicate poor behaviour. [The report on ‘Creating a New Deal for Middle Managers’ by Boston Consulting Group may now be five years old, but still rings true…]

Connection to customers – How do leaders stay connected to customers?  Interesting a recent report by Grant Thornton shows that the more CEOs focus on the internal audience, the more it impacts on productivity.  But this shouldn’t negate the importance of staying connected to customers.  One of our group talked about a piece of work mapping how colleagues impact on customers, no matter whether they are front or back office, which is a great way of reminding everyone of why they are doing what they do.  Yet there are still many leaders who build from a balance sheet, not from customers and what they are looking for.

So a great discussion, and a number of points which we could debate for hours on their own.

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