How Great Leaders Drive and Sustain an Accountable Organisational Culture

When your employees make a serious mistake, what’s their initial response? Is it making excuses? Finger pointing? Or do they have a great sense of ownership for business results that they take action to solve the problem and learn from their mistake?

Organisational culture is important to a business as it shows employees which values and vision they should be upholding.

But it relies strongly upon the executive team. Leaders must not only determine the culture they want for their organisation but also provide the clear direction.


Leaders must not only determine the culture they want for their organisation but also provide the clear direction.
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If employees don’t feel as though their leadership is engaged and actively upholding their culture, they are going to find it very difficult to believe in new initiatives or large organisational shifts.


What Is Organisational Culture?

Organisational culture provides guidelines for employee behaviour, putting into words the ethics and values of the organisation that the employee is meant to display.

From customer service to sustainable business practices, a company culture tells employees how they should behave in situations that are not otherwise governed by an employee handbook.


From customer service to sustainable business practices, a company culture tells employees how they should behave in situations that are not otherwise governed by an employee handbook.
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In essence, organisational culture defines what the organisation is about.

Consider a situation in which an employee is dealing face-to-face with a customer who has a possible but unprecedented request.

The employee does not have any direct guidance regarding this particular situation, but the employee does know that their organisational culture is designed to put the customer first.

Since the request is possible and does not violate any of the organisation’s rules, the employee will do what they can to fulfil this request.

This is what the top management would have wanted — but because they cannot be there all the time, they use organisational culture to provide guidance in their absence.

Recommended article: 6 Things No One Tells You about Culture


Why Culture Efforts Fail

Why do attempts at sustaining an organisation’s culture fail? It always comes down to a failure of leadership. An attempt to change an organisation’s culture and sustain it is not easy. It requires company-wide initiatives, guidance, and support from the top.


Why do attempts at sustaining an organisation’s culture fail? It always comes down to a failure of leadership.
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Here are the top three reasons why cultural shifts fail:


Leaders Lack Commitment

Three years ago, Microsoft’s CEO Satya Nadella released an inspiring new mission statement to Microsoft’s employees. This statement included three core values for the business: customer service, diversity, and unity.

Since then, Nadella has expanded Microsoft’s cloud-based services tremendously. Microsoft’s value as a company has been growing since.

Satya Nadella had a long-term vision for the company and was willing to commit to it — something CEOs seldom do. This is because many CEOs are expecting a tenure of a handful of years and are mostly concerned about short-term results rather than the long-term growth that a company culture provides.


There Are No Measurable Goals Set in Place

As leaders, you cannot simply put out missives for your employees and expect them to create something actionable.

You must show how you intend to achieve the organisation’s goals. How? Through the use of real examples and metrics.

Provide support for your employees in terms of a roadmap towards the organisational culture you desire.


Culture Change Lacks Genuineness and Differentiation

Most companies we know want to be customer-centric, but what does that really mean? A generic company culture is a non-existent company culture; it gives employees very little to latch on to.

An example of this type of atmosphere is the international air carrier United Airlines, which has repeatedly been in the news for poor company culture. United Airlines doesn’t appear to have a real company culture beyond a generic outline of friendliness and customer service.

As you can see, what is most important is to start off with a genuine message and to support that message. If you don’t know what your company is about, you can’t expect your employees to know either.


How to Sustain Your Accountable Organisational Culture

You’re not able to create an accountable culture unless the guidelines are drawn immediately. After all, accountability begins with responsibility. Everyone from the C-suite to the entry-level employees must understand their role.

Here are some tips for creating a sustainable and accountable organisational culture.

  1. Start with the right people at the helm. A company’s culture will always reflect its leadership. Sustaining your company culture is very likely to happen when employees model their own behaviours after the leaders they find inspirational.
  2. Have a solid execution. Not only do you need to have an inspiring organisational culture, you also need to execute it properly. As with any company-wide change, the cultural shift has to be done in a structured, conscientious way.
  3. Hire people who will take responsibility. As you add new individuals to your company, you need to make sure that they fit into the organisational culture that you have created. Past behaviour is the best predictor of future events. Get a good feel for an individual and their accomplishments, and you should know whether or not they will be a good fit for your business.
  4. Provide regular positive and constructive feedback. An organisation has to be guided towards success. If employees aren’t aware of their own failings, they aren’t going to know what they need to change. You need to be able to provide clear guidance and actionable suggestions. Coaching, feedback, and support matters.
  5. Have open and clear KPIs and responsibilities. For example, if you have a customer-focused culture, a key performance indicator (KPI) of your company culture might be self-reported customer satisfaction. Having clear KPIs will help employees in determining the goals that they have to shoot for and in assessing their own success. This is where accountability begins.
  6. Recognise people who achieve their goals. You can’t hold people accountable for failures without rewarding their successes. Recognition, for many employees, is even more important than salaries and benefits. Employees want to be recognised for the hard work that they do. Find employees who epitomise the values of your company’s culture and reward them for doing so. Whether you offer praise or career progression, a reward will be an inspiration for the rest.
  7. Promote a culture of open, honest, authentic, and courageous communication. The more employees feel as though they can speak their mind, the more they will be willing to come forward with new ideas or issues that they’ve noticed. Employees will only speak up if they believe that the leadership genuinely wants them to. In a stifling environment, leaders will never experience feedback or criticism of themselves and consequently will not be able to grow with their company culture or properly support it.

Recommended article: Change Management Principles: How to Lead Change and Make It Stick


You Have a Desirable Organisational Culture When…

According to Tim Stevens, author of Fairness is Overrated: And 51 Other Leadership Principles to Revolutionize Your Workplace, there are 12 signs that your organisation has a desirable company culture. This is when:

  1. People who hear about your organisation are interested in joining your team.
  2. Your organisation’s staff turnover is low.
  3. Individuals within the organisation are not threatened by the success of their peers.
  4. Your organisation does not tolerate gossip.
  5. Your organisation has strong lateral leadership.
  6. Team members in your organisation are energised by their organisation’s purpose and ambition.
  7. Your organisation’s team members enjoy each other’s company even outside of work.
  8. Your team members believe they are more important than the task at hand.
  9. Your employees are smiling and happy.
  10. Your organisation is not filled with fearful employees.
  11. Communication within your organisation is strong.
  12. Your employees are not afraid of change.

Guiding your organisation’s culture is critical to your organisation’s success. Without a solid company culture, your employees will have less guidance regarding the work that they do and the performance that they offer. A weak company culture ultimately leads to unhappy employees and unpredictable results.

Sustaining your accountable company culture requires support and buy-in from everyone — from the top management to employees. You need to have clear metrics for success, and employees must know what is expected of them.

To manage this change, you may need to learn how to transform your intent into action so your strategy ends up in the bottom line, not the bottom drawer. 


Culture affects the organisation’s ability to implement strategy. Download this  PDF to learn how to action your intent.


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