When we think about how a CEO can best affect the culture of their company, we often think of the big things - like their rousing speech at the quarterly address, creating a culture deck or executing strategic initiatives.
But when we asked our people geek community about the most important thing a CEO had done to impact their company’s culture nobody mentioned the speeches, decks or strategy. Instead they talked about the little things that embodied the bigger initiatives.
Moments become stories that live on
When you’re a CEO, moments matter. It's amazing how the little things you do can impact the culture. These don’t just affect the culture of your company but also how individuals in your organization feel.
As a CEO, you have to constantly remind yourself that you’re always on stage and the mic is on. So when people see you own a mistake or even get frustrated at times it shows them that you’re authentic. If you allow others to see you as human it also gives them permission to be human.
One of the examples that Melissa Sheehan highlighted was Katrina Lake, CEO of Stitch Fix. While she rolled out a maternity leave policy, she made a much bigger impact on the company’s culture when she had her first child. “[She] set a good example for employees to let them know that they have maternity leave for a reason. She made a point *not* to come in the office or be on email to set an example for what she hopes other expecting parents will do.”
Other examples include when CEOs and senior leaders loudly announce that they’re leaving early to pick their kids up or take them to sport. Rather than slipping quietly out the back, they make a point of announcing it which means it’s okay for everyone else to do it too.
It’s important for CEOs to model the values of the company. As Jeremy Dean, Founder and Director of riders&elephants, recalled, “I once had a CEO who was also the founder of the company. I worked as his assistant and was aware that he took a pay cut one year so he could pay the senior leaders in our team more when we decided to restructure our business and we wanted to keep these ‘top’ leaders. It was the most selfless act I had ever seen from a leader. Unfortunately none of the senior leaders, or staff knew this had happened. I was the only other person apart from the board who knew. The culture of the majority of the company was all about care and selflessness – so he lived up to this.”
This CEO was living the values even though no-one was watching. Even if people don’t know, these things have a way of coming out and turning into stories that people remember. Those stories then go on to influence the company and its culture.
Another example that I was incredibly impressed by was Jeff Weiner, CEO of LinkedIn. According to Sebastian Sam, Relationship Manager for LinkedIn, “Often Jeff Weiner asks that we practice compassion and mindfulness both in and outside of the workplace. The most unexpected moment came when he donated $14 million of his stock bonus to the employees. Our stock price had plunged by 40% and he immediately instilled confidence.” People still talk about this gesture and how it changed not only the culture but the people within the company.
When you’re in a position of leadership, it’s important to get up on stage and give the big presentation, but it’s just as important to turn up in the moments that matter and be authentic. It’s those moments that become stories that live on and define the culture of your organization.