The Gap between your Formal and Informal Cultures is as simple as 'Follow the Leader' Companies often express frustration that their operations fail to live up to the standards set forth for itself. These companies are essentially describing gaps between their formal (company standard) and informal (what actually happens) cultures. While many factors contribute to this gap, such as communication, size, number of locations and hiring practices, maybe the single most prevalent force in driving informal culture is the behavior of front line managers and supervisors.
One important characteristics of a “Best Boss” is leading by example. On the surface, this seems like a straightforward and common characteristic of many bosses, but let’s look deeper. How does the significance of this characteristic extend beyond just the personal esteem in which we hold the boss to the point that it actually impacts the success of the entire organization?
A workplace is an extremely complex and dynamic organism and the workers themselves will only act in ways that make sense to them in the moment. If the actions of supervisors suggest that certain behaviors are acceptable, even if they fly in the face of company policy, the employees will be prompted to act in the same manner as their leader. Even worse, if the boss is allowed to pick and choose which rules to follow, he or she is giving unspoken permission for others to do the same.
Let’s look at a specific example. There is a manufacturing company that has very high safety standards, including the proper use of PPE (Personal Protective Equipment). The plant manager is well known to show up on the manufacturing floor wearing his Nike training shoes and a hat of his favorite football team. While he may try to justify not wearing PPE in his own mind, what he fails to recognize is the precedent he is setting for the workforce. After all, if the boss can wear his tennis shoes on the plant floor, why can’t the others? Not only is he not modeling the proper standard, he has now set the precedent that the standards themselves are simply suggestions and not to be taken seriously.
Some of you may be asking yourself, “but what if I make a simple mistake and now I’m leading the entire team down the wrong road?” There is actually no better time to demonstrate the characteristic of leading by example than when you make a mistake. Simply stating your mistake and the steps that you are going to take to rectify the situation shows that you do in fact care about the standards of the company, and most importantly, that you are willing to hold yourself accountable to the standards. The resulting impact on informal culture is that the formal culture will be seen as worthy of being embraced and that everyone is able - especially leaders - and prepared to redirect and be redirected for performance that doesn't match the desired culture.
We won’t go into detail in this post about what leaders do to redirect bad performance, in themselves or others, but you can click here to read an archived newsletter on that topic.