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Why leaders have sleepless nights about culture

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Organisations with rich, healthy cultures achieve income growth seven times higher than those with less well-defined cultures. As a result, those leaders are better at attracting talent that enables them to keep generating growth and value. No wonder many sleepless nights are a result of the subject.

But those who pay attention achieve superior results. They do it by articulating a set of values that they live by, and then making sure their managers and people live and breathe those values too. But why does this lead to sleepless nights?

As a leader, you constantly have to check those values are being lived all the way to the front line. With the health and growth of your business at stake, trying to achieve this can take over your every waking moment. That being the case, why not follow these tips from CEOs who have focused on culture to enable success?

1) Think carefully about your values

Ensure staff reflect the DNA of your organisation; ensure they enable you to achieve your goals. Too often, leaders describe their values without sufficient explanation, meaning they cannot truly drive culture.

Dame Louise Makin, CEO of specialist health-care company BTG, said: “I honestly believe the absolute key to success is the quality of people and the way you conduct business. Everything we do is guided by values, which we long ago designed to underpin and foster a culture that would enable fast growth and meaning. Every step of the way we have made sure we have had, at our core, integrity, teamwork, accountability, delivery, openness and continuous learning as our values.”

2) Put your leaders on the front line
Kevin Murray has been advising leaders and leadership teams for three decades
Kevin Murray has been advising leaders and leadership teams for three decades

To understand the culture and what changes are necessary, leaders must spend time on the front line of the business. Vernon Everitt, MD of customers, communication and technology for Transport for London (TfL), described developing culture as being all about trying to see life through the eyes of the customer.

To do this, TfL has initiated a “front-line experience”, where senior leadership have to spend at least two weeks of the year in the field, acting as a revenue inspector on the Tube, on the bus service, or mopping the decks at one of the piers where the river boats turn up. Everitt said: “It’s only by doing this, by standing shoulder to shoulder with staff, that we can truly understand their experience and help deliver a better service.”

3) Create a strong set of values to empower and energise people

Your culture – if you wish to do away with sleepless nights – should enable everyone in the organisation to make decisions in your absence, based on knowing what you would do. Companies that create more leaders are more agile. To create leaders, you need to empower people to make decisions without going up and down the management chain. To achieve this, leaders need to provide a purpose and clear principles.

In 2010, Debbie Hewitt MBE was appointed to help turn around the failing Moss Bros Group. At the heart of the company’s recovery has been the motivation and ethic of its people. “The previous mission statement didn’t engage people,” said Debbie. “It wasn’t the reason people came to work every day. We needed to describe it with more emotional language – to make men feel amazing.”

Don’t want sleepless nights about culture? There are more tips on the next page, spanning how to bond with customers and striving to do the right thing.

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