Communicating Culture—the Difference between Being a Leader, and Not Just a Dreamer

January 9, 2020

My entire career has been built around culture and communications. In fact, leading culture and communications was even my corporate role and job title. The two functions seemed logically symbiotic, to me. But working with countless organizations since forming Unstoppable Cultures, I’ve realized that many do not see the intrinsic connection between the two disciplines. Part of my mission moving forward is to facilitate the recognition of the benefits of creating a close linkage.

Culture initiatives will falter if not continually reinforced through the life that communication brings to your dreams for your organization.

When I was reading an article about culture on earlier this month, a line buried in the middle of the piece struck me. “A leader with a good idea that is never communicated is not a leader, just a dreamer.” Some organizations spend considerable time distilling their values or purpose, but far less time bringing these principles to life inside their organizations. Architects of enduring cultures use communication to fuel and reinforce their culture mission daily in the life of their organization.

As a Leader, here’s a quick-start list of the various ways you can use communication to set your culture initiatives on fire:

  1. Use every opportunity
    Survey the various communication tools available to you and create new ones if the current inventory is lacking. When Gary Kelly became CEO of Southwest Airlines, he started recording a weekly message to employees. Not only did he talk about the past week’s events and those anticipated in the week ahead, he ended every message with a shout-out to an employee who had made a difference with a customer. In addition to being a terrific culture-building tool, this tactic shows other employees what type of behavior is valued and widens their view of how far they can go to deliver great customer service.
  2. Realize that communication is not a one-time event; it’s a process
    One leader recently declared to me that the annual goals had been communicated to employees. And that’s when I realized that he thought his communication job was complete. Not so fast! For this example, set up a regular method to update employees on the progress toward those goals. Even better, build in recognition or compensation elements that more closely tie employees to the ultimate win.
  3. Create context
    Playing off the annual goals example above….take the time to help different types of employee groups understand how their particular role can make a difference. Put employees in the driver’s seat by allowing them to describe how their actions will drive the annual goals. Then use communication to share how the accounting department or the research team are creating new realities. Communicate within the context of the work to create relevance…and a more lasting impression.
  4. Make culture/communication part of every leader’s job
    When you ask almost any employee about “communication” such as in a survey, employees first talk about communication from their leader. Employees don’t immediately think of technology or official company channels. The key is equipping leaders to be strong communicators and training them on the importance of face-to-face interaction with employees. Think back to your most effective leaders. They likely excelled at the job of communication.

I know you are a dreamer – now it’s time to communicate those culture dreams! Culture and communication, when done well, are individually powerful components of winning organizations; together, they make for Unstoppable ones.

Together, we truly can build Unstoppable Cultures!


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