Everyone – from the CEO down to the mailroom clerk – leaves an imprint on the organization.
Their legacy is the essence of their tenure and their actions and efforts while in the firm, and depending on the character in question, it can last years beyond the character’s departure date and can influence multiple generations of employees.
In my piece on The New Digital Enterprise I laid out 11 core principles that the firm of the 21st century must embrace and embody. This post focuses on the bit about “promoting leaders with values as much as vision”.
The culture of an organization is its soul, or, if you don’t like spiritual metaphors, the superego. The ethics, ideals, virtues, the traits and proclivities valued by an organization, whether that organization is cognitively aware of them or not, are demonstrated on a daily basis through the speech and behavior of its employees. And that speech and behavior, more often then not, mirrors the speech and behavior of leadership and management.
We all know “culture starts at the top.” Whether you are the founder of a company, or the recently-hired CEO, or any senior manager or executive, your actions and beliefs will, over time, dictate the culture of the entire organization. Your people are watching you and watching you closely: what you say, what you do, who you promote, who you celebrate, who you punish or let go – all are signals of what traits are valued by the firm, and therefore become embodied by the culture.
I’d suggest that you need to really think about the signals you send, because you will surely get what you ask for.
Leaders and managers are responsible for identifying, grooming, and promoting future leaders. Not only are those you promote going to have your stamp on them, the traits they embody and the behavior they display are going to signal – loudly and clearly – to the rest of the organization what kinds of traits and behaviors are valued and will lead to career enhancement. This is true for the smallest shop to the largest industrial conglomerate.
What creates culture is what you do as a leader and who you promote.
Two examples of how this can go south for your firm in a big damn hurry:
A very big and well-known retailer is just now having a teensy little ethics problem.. A number of people who presided over these epic ethics fails were promoted and celebrated in the company. When their egregious behavior had been discovered, senior leaders at the company swept the whole thing under the rug and hoped it would go away. What message did that send to the firm’s employees, I wonder?
Over in the banking and finance sector, think about the signals being broadcast at Goldman Sachs (which we learned all about in Greg Smith’s catastrophic exit stage left). That culture, if we are to believe young Greggy, became all about ripping out eyeballs and all sorts of other unsavory customer-shafting activities. That was not the case when he started, and it only took 12 years to go from something he liked to something that caused him to publicly flameout. What kinds of behavior and people were getting promoted there?
What will be the legacy of H. Lee Scott and Eduardo Castro-Wright? What will be the legacy of Lloyd Blankfein and Hank Paulson?
Now, as we progress with this blog, there’s going to be plenty more talk here about culture, leadership, and ethics, with opportunity for all kinds of discussion. For now though, whether you’re the CEO, a middle manager, or just a guy on the line, let me ask you:
What signals are YOU sending? What kind of culture are YOU creating? Will you be proud of YOUR legacy?