How Leaders Use Culture in their Organizations to Reinforce Areas of Emphasis

Last week, I was talking to a local senior executive who was discussing the importance of culture in his organization. He mentioned how important it was for leaders at all levels to understand the key elements of culture when one rolls out a new initiative, reinforcing certain behaviors to accelerate momentum, and to grow one’s team.

He noted, “Nobody is going to change anything simply because you think it is a good idea.  You have to set up and find ways to embed elements of your current culture into your daily work and into the work of your team.  Find ways that your current culture supports what you are looking to do and build on your current strengths.”

How do you do that? One of the leading researchers on culture, Ed Schein, outlines some primary elements and mechanisms that leaders use culture to embed and reinforce areas of emphasis:

  • What leaders pay attention to, measure, and control regularly
  • How leaders react to critical incidents and organizational crises
  • How leaders allocate scarce resources
  • Deliberate role modeling, teaching, and coaching
  • How leaders allocate rewards and status
  • How leaders recruit, select, promote, retire, and excommunicate organizational members

Secondary reinforcement mechanisms include:

  • Organizational design, structure, systems, procedures, rites, rituals.
  • Stories, legends and myths about people and events
  • Physical space, buildings, and facades
  • Formal statements of organizational philosophy, values, and creeds
    (Source: The Corporate Culture Survival Guide, p. 98, Schein, 2009)

How have you seen leaders in organizations use culture to embed culture to reinforce areas of emphasis?