There are many differing views on how leaders can and should influence an organization's culture. The IGNITE leadership conference held by the Community Development Foundation at the start of 2020 saw several leaders give their perspectives on the matter. For the author of Uniquely You and CEO of Southwest Michigan First Ron Kitchens, developing a good company culture is about creating thriving multi-generational teams —a culture where knowledge transfer goes smoothly from one generation to the next. For "humor engineer" Drew Tarvin, it's about knowing the importance of humor in the workplace, and how having fun during work can lead to better results
Whether or not you agree with these perspectives, there's no denying the power of leaders in shaping the present and future cultures of their organizations. And for better or worse, here at Ulliance we can tell you that much of this power hinges on trust. It is the mutual trust between leaders and followers which allows organizational cultures to thrive.
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Google learned this the hard way when many of its employees left in 2019. Employees of the tech giant observed massive cultural changes that arose during the year, including questionable suspensions and firing, and the company's general lack of upfront communication with employees. Information on certain dubious projects were kept on a need-to-know basis, raising ethical concerns amid Google's ranks, many of which simply chose to leave. For years, Google has been touted as the model employer for optimizing organizational culture in a scaling, thriving enterprise comprised of 100,000 workers. And it all came crumbling down due to trust issues. As Google engineer Zora Tung said in a 2019 employee rally demanding transparency on company suspension and firing policies, “Google is built on trust. If the company wants to succeed, it needs to regain that trust through transparency and accountability.”
"People working at high-trust companies report 74% less stress, 106% more energy at work, 50% higher productivity, 13% fewer sick days, 76% more engagement, 29% more satisfaction with their lives, and 40% less burnout."
Amid disruptive changes in tech-driven industries, mutual trust is what keeps it all together. Another (former) tech giant that learned this the hard way is Yahoo. Under the leadership of then CEO Marissa Mayers, Yahoo abruptly eliminated its telecommuting policy. Much like the thriving tech companies of its time, Yahoo had evolved an organizational culture that trusted its employees to work remotely on certain days of the week, allowing them to find the balance between working and raising families, caring for elders at home, and dealing with other concerns. Mayers justified her decision as part of her overall strategy to "better align Yahoo work culture with customer service." However, in the months following Mayers' edict, Yahoo's HR observed double-digit drops in employee morale and engagement, prompting the downhill turn which eventually lead Mayers to resign in 2017 —right as the company was being acquired by Verizon for $4.8 billion. Yahoo was worth double that number when Mayer was hired five years prior.
The erosion of Yahoo's company culture began when Mayers didn't trust her employees to telecommute or work remotely. What she didn't realize was that telecommuting had grown into a legitimate and profitable business tactic over the years. Today, more and more businesses are looking for professional trainers who specialize in facilitating internal organizational changes to accommodate remote working options. In an industry overview focusing on organizational leadership by Maryville University, they attribute this demand to the emerging tech-driven training methods and structures that are needed to better navigate the demands of remote working setups. This continued development of the remote working industry is an indication of the growing trust between industry leaders and their employees, as well as how this trust has come to shape cultures in modern organizations.
Whatever type of organization you're running, one thing is for certain: trust is the main ingredient in how leaders shape organizational culture. As Claremont Graduate University psychology and management professor Paul Zak explains, "compared with people at low-trust companies, people at high-trust companies report 74% less stress, 106% more energy at work, 50% higher productivity, 13% fewer sick days, 76% more engagement, 29% more satisfaction with their lives, and 40% less burnout."
In short, a little mutual trust can go a long way towards shaping a positive culture in any organization.
Hundreds of organizations support their employees through The Ulliance Life Advisor EAP. Did you know Ulliance offers training classes? Need help with Culture and Diversity? Let us know! Visit www.ulliance.com, or call 866-648-8326.