What is the role of leaders in defining company culture?

Companies targeting long-term success understand the importance of instilling a strong culture.

Not only does this outline the values and practices of the organisation, it gives employees a framework from which they can align themselves.

Companies such as Google and Facebook have become famous for going to extreme lengths to make sure their employees have a comfortable working environment in which to thrive. But if you look at the types of businesses that routinely rank highly on 'best to work for' lists, they all have one thing in common - visionary leadership.

If a strong company culture is not brought in and communicated from the top down, there will not be the same level of buy-in.

Company culture

"Leaders of organisations [often] believe culture is a purely HR issue. HR of course has a massively important role to play, but a culture is reinforced by everything a leader does,” said Dan Look, head of culture at management consultancy Baringa.

Speaking to HR Magazine, he is adamant that culture has to start with leadership. Indeed, he thinks it should be the first thing leaders look at, even ahead of strategy. "In the long term, culture is the only strategic differentiator," Mr Look added.

Baringa was recently named as one of the top ten best places to work in the UK by The Great Place to Work Institute. To make sure there is a high level of cross-communication with the company, it splits employees into three different groups.

The first consists of people meeting with others in the same business unit, the second is for staff with responsibilities outside of their primary business unit, and the third is advisor pods featuring senior managers and partners.

These focus groups not only give people the chance to get to know a wide range of colleagues, they also instil a culture of leadership at all levels. For example, junior employees become comfortable questioning senior management. "Everyone knows they can suggest changes the business could make," Mr Look said.

Effective management

The success of Baringa underlines just how important it is for management to take the issue of workplace culture seriously, as it could end up being the main difference between themselves and their competitors.

Research by The Great Place to Work Institute has found that 96 per cent of employees working for its top ten best workplaces look forward to coming in every day, compared with only 32 per cent in the bottom ten unranked organisations. This shows that a strong culture can boost engagement.

At the heart of the issue is trust, as engaged workers are more likely to give that little bit extra to get a job done, to recommend working at the company to others and to see themselves staying at the organisation long-term.

If the management structure is sound, uses common sense in the decision-making process and recognition is given to staff for important achievements, senior leaders will be able to nurture workers and prove to them why company culture is so important.