What Kind of Culture are your Leaders Creating?

by Chris Young

Yelling Like it or not, the managers and leaders within an organization probably have the single largest impact on an organization's cultural identity. While certain subcultures can exist (think of your IT department) and the unique blend of personalities among the staff within an organization can certainly have an influence on a company's culture, it is ultimately the management and leadership at the top of the company food chain that determines the culture and identity of an organization.

The scary thing about this is that many times the leaders within an organization do not recognize the power they wield over an organization's culture. This can lead to a lot of negative and unintended consequences that can reverberate down the company ranks.


While I was attending college I worked part time in the electrical department for a well known national home improvement center. The products sold in the electrical department were by their very nature highly technical. It goes without saying that mistakes during an electrical construction project can have some very undesirable outcomes…

I would often assist homeowners whose electrical skills were what would be described as novice at best. These individuals would bring in drawings of what they were trying to accomplish or would painstakingly describe the electrical product they felt they needed to complete their project and I would do my best to match them with something that would suit their needs.

I can clearly remember one incident where a customer was trying to complete the wiring installation of a hot tub he had just purchased. The installation of a hot tub, among other things, often requires the use of a weather-proof electrical "whip" which provides a line of power between the hot tub and a dedicated electrical disconnect panel for the hot tub.

My customer had brought in a rough drawing of what he was working with and I politely told him that his drawing didn't look like anything I had seen before. I showed him a few products and none looked right to him. I explained to him that without seeing what he was actually working with it would be difficult for me to get him the right product to complete his project.

"I was worried about that," he informed me, "So I drove straight over here after buying the hot tub. I've got it loaded on my trailer – do you think you could come outside and take a quick look at it with me?"

"Absolutely," I informed him, "Let me grab my coat."

I got my coat and placed the customer's basket full of the other items he needed to install his hot tub on our department's desk. As I was heading towards the door with this customer I ran into my department manager who asked where I was going. I informed her that I was going to the customer's trailer to look at the electrical connection for his hot tub.

"We don't do that," she replied, "He needs to take make a better drawing or perhaps he should call an electrician."

Harsh. Worst of all she spoke of our customer in the third person, like he wasn't even there. It was embarrassing for both me and the customer, who informed me that he would take another look and see what he could figure out on his own.

He didn't come back and his basket of goods got returned to the shelves.

As I returned my coat my department manager went on to explain to me that we don't leave the store to help a customer and that the store manager had complained that employees were spending a lot of time outside their assigned department helping guests.

Talk about a commitment to service!

The message I heard was that our store does not go the extra mile to satisfy a customer. I heard that I am not to show a customer where a product is, but rather say it is in such and such a department, point across the store, pat them on the back, and say, "Good luck." I heard that "Committed to Service" was just corporate propaganda that wasn't worth the vinyl banner hanging from the ceiling that it was printed on.

You can bet that I didn't go the extra mile to help a customer very often after that incident.

While my department manager's comments were harsh they may have stemmed from a very innocent comment made by the store manager such as, "our sales associates sure seem to be spending a lot of time outside their departments helping customers lately." His comments may have been sparked from words uttered by the regional manager.

I think you see where I am headed…

The key point here is that the leaders in an organization have a huge impact on the company's culture and this almost always impacts the way that customers are treated, which in turn impacts the bottom line.  I

t is critical that managers and leaders take a "step back" and take a look at their actions or their directions and consider how they might impact those they lead.  If there is the positiblity that these actions could have unintended consequences managers need to be very deliberate in how they act to ensure that their actions are viewed in the "right light."   

If you are a manager or leader in your organization, what kind of culture are you creating with your actions?

Remember the examples you set and the actions you take frequently make their way down to the customer level!

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