If your culture relies solely on the leadership efforts of your executives, you could be doing it wrong.
Many companies fail from the outset with culture, after working hard to mete out their vision and values. They fail when that vision doesn’t bear the fruit of action. Others fail over time, as they focus only on the actions of executives, while lacking buy-in from those outside of the executive suite.
I have seen first-hand how non-executives can make just as much of an impact as executives when it comes to overall cultivation of culture. The company should see every single person as a culture carrier, and each employee should operate under the expectation that they follow through. In the most prolific cultures, your team sees the responsibility of acting on the company’s values, each day, as their duty.
The moment you start to draw a line or to limit one’s ability or contribution to culture, based off of title or tenure with the company, is also the moment that you start to impede that person’s ability to grow—and your company’s ability to grow, too. And the second that you start to limit one’s ability to grow, or at least their perception of their ability to grow, you’re creating a ceiling. This artificial limitation is toxic, and it goes beyond individuals to infect your entire organization.
Don’t get me wrong. Those who have more authority and responsibility can naturally have more influence on culture if they are prioritizing their actions. I don’t think the question we should be asking is, “How can non-executives contribute to corporate culture in the same way executives do?” Instead, we should be asking, “Does my team have opportunity to contribute? If so, are they willing?” If the opportunity and willingness to contribute is there, that means every single person has the choice to take ownership in what they do and cultivating the company culture. This opportunity is vital in enabling non-executives to grow into executive-level culture carriers.
Perhaps the biggest key to this mentality that values and expects everyone to contribute, regardless seniority, is the flattening of the organization, not necessarily in titles, but in deeds. That means C-suite executives and senior managers should set aside their ego and try to connect with non-executives where they are. Essentially, they should act with empathy and return their mindsets to where they themselves were earlier in their careers.
Mastering this concept will result in genuine culture growth and more universal buy-in across the organization. Eliminate the hierarchical boundaries that separate who’s able to truly contribute to culture and who’s not. Provide your team the opportunity and set the expectation that everybody is encouraged to not only contribute to culture, but to perform at the same level, too.