Can leaders "build" a meaningful culture?

Leaders don't have the ability to create culture on their own, but they can take thoughtful steps to make it more likely.

A recent post from best-selling author and future of work speaker Jacob Morgan promoted "5 Ways Leaders can Build a Meaningful Culture."



5 Ways Leaders Can Build a Meaningful Culture - Carrie Birkhofer & Jacob Morgan

It's a useful chart and my only real contention with it is the headline. I agree that leadership is important, but in the new era of work, culture can run away from leaders quickly. The true role of a leader in today's workplace isn't to build or dictate culture. Rather, great modern leaders set the stage for a meaningful culture by creating the conditions for the culture to emerge organically rather than trying to control it.

Here's an example of what I mean:

The following line from the chart jumps out and can guide leaders away from any illusion of control over a meaningful culture and towards a different approach: "engaged employees care about their work and the people around them."

You can't direct someone to care about someone else and, yet, there are certain organizations where this happens better than it does for others.

People in thriving organizations want to stay, learn and grow with the organization and want to do their best work along the way. What happens in these winning organizations is that the pride individuals take in work and the relationships they have with colleagues reinforce each other and strengthen the organization one person and interaction at a time. 

For work relationships to thrive, individuals need to know how to find help and how to be helpful to their colleagues on a daily basis. It should be self evident that success as an individual is tied to the success of colleagues and the success of the organization as a whole. With this alignment in place, there is a feeling of inclusion and effectiveness instead of one of isolation.

3 behaviors that reveal a culture moving towards "meaningful":

  • Colleagues routinely make commitments and then meet or exceed them, creating an organization where "relying on others" is far more common than "chasing things down."

  • Colleagues openly seek help and share struggles knowing that others will want to help them.

  • Colleagues celebrate promotions and new opportunities for others with a growth mindset vs. a "What does this mean for me?" reaction.

So, if leaders don't control culture, how can they set the stage?

  • Encourage the right behaviors when they happen and push back when they don't.

  • Hire for people who have shown these behaviors in previous roles.

  • Invest in technologies, programs, and organizational structures (from office space to digital space to team structures) that reinforce and enable these strong cultural behaviors.

  • Demonstrate these behaviors yourself in all you do. Most leaders are engaged in the work enough that they have more opportunities than they think to showcase the behaviors they hope to see among the team. 

In our at work at Structural, serving as a discovery platform for the workplace, we’ve learned lot. By using Structural to empower individuals to connect with the right colleagues and the right internal opportunities at the right time, our clients create the conditions for the type of culture that performs better particularly in this new work environment.

What we hear from leaders and individuals shows how creating the right conditions for culture to thrive happens from the top down and from the individual out:

"Structural is ingrained in many parts of our business to where we always check Structural to find the right people to match to opportunities in our fluid talent model. The use is beyond what I ever expected."

- Mark Goble, COO, MERGE

"Employee engagement and retention were a major issue for us. We reduced turnover by 50% in the first year with Structural because prior to, our teams felt disconnected from each other and the business."  

- Michael, Division COO, Top 5 Global Healthcare Organization

“I just started a new job. I love that Structural is helping me to settle in and build connections with my colleagues. I’ve been here just over a week and I’ve used Structural several times. I love it!” 

- Julie Stover, Senior Employee Experience Specialist, Arbor Homes


The graphic I started with was titled “5 Ways Leaders Can Build a Meaningful Culture.” If an organization is working, the title of your story should really be, “How we created a place where everyone could bring their whole selves to work and build meaningful culture together.”

As an executive or human capital leader, you can start right now by asking these two questions:

  • Do we prioritize technologies and investments in order to automate administrative processes or to empower employees in how they get their best work done?

  • Do our leaders put out top-down edicts and communications or do they use their influence to set the stage for organic connections and rich work experiences?

This is a challenging and fast-changing time for leaders. If you'd like to discuss what we've learned working with hundreds of leaders and tens of thousands of individuals to build more meaningful culture, contact me on LinkedIn or request a custom demo today.



Want to learn how to build an agile & empowered workplace?

Explore Structural