Having worked at Microsoft under all three of its CEOs, I witnessed first-hand the significant swings and minute shifts of culture that resulted from the transition from Bill Gates to Steve Ballmer and to current CEO, Satya Nadella. This experience sparked my fascination with the impact different leaders can have on organizational culture.
Seven days a week, 365 days a year, you can scroll LinkedIn or conduct an internet search on the term leadership, which will result in new information on how to hire, train, promote, and develop capable leaders. And while focusing on leadership impact is a valuable goal for any organization, what are the specific outcomes we expect to result from this cadre of leaders, particularly in relation to company culture? In March 2020, my dissertation titled "Exploring the Relationship between Leadership Outcomes and Organizational Culture in American Information Technology Companies" was signed by the Dean of Grand Canyon University and is now archived in the Library of Congress and searchable on Google Scholar (which somehow seems cooler in the age of social media!). All this to say, I have spent a lot of time researching, thinking, and writing about how leaders can move the needle on a company's culture.
Leadership style is defined as the attitudes and behaviors that a leader exhibits. My research showed that the outcomes of a leader's style is, in fact, a key influencer of employees, and as a result, can be a lever to move the needle of company culture. Successful outcomes of leadership, as measured by employees, include extra effort, effectiveness, and satisfaction with the leader, all of which can be measured by a tool called the Multi-Factor Leadership questionnaire. Organizational Culture (OC) is made up of the shared values of a company, which provide a framework that influences and directs employees' behavior. OC can be defined along four key cultural axes, specifically, employee involvement, consistency of effort, adaptability, focus on the mission. A tool commonly used to measure these cultural aspects is the Denison Organizational Culture Survey.
“When the outcomes of leader extra effort, leader effectiveness, and satisfaction with the leader are combined, they have a statistically significant impact on all four organizational culture attributes”
What did my dissertation research uncover? When the outcomes of leader extra effort, leader effectiveness, and satisfaction with the leader are combined, they have a statistically significant impact on all four organizational culture attributes. For example, when a leader is deemed to be capable of ensuring all four outcomes for their team members, the culture of employee involvement, consistency of effort, adaptability, and focus on a mission will all be positively impacted. But it is a rare leader who is able to simultaneously deploy all four leader outcomes to positively influence organizational culture. My Doctoral work validated that in large-sized IT organizations specifically, the leader outcome of effectiveness was a statistically significant predictor of two of the culture variables, employee involvement, and consistency of effort. Leader effectiveness has been depicted as the ability for a leader to be effective in meeting their team members' job-related needs, effective in representing their group to higher-level leaders, effective in meeting organizational goals, and leading a group that is effective. And while the alignment between effective leaders and a culture of employee involvement and consistent team effort is in itself a valuable result, additional benefits of focusing on leader effectiveness are the measurable return on a company's financial market success, profitability, efficiency, and marketplace survival.
So where should recruiters, learning teams, and hiring managers focus when assessing and developing leader capability to improve company culture? By far, the biggest focus for the company's hoping to improve organizational culture is to find, promote, and develop effective leaders. The practical application of this prioritization on leader effectiveness over any other leadership competency has become even more critical based on the move to remote working due to COVID19 (and presumably for the foreseeable future). The recommendation then is for companies to focus leadership recruitment, development, and promotion activities not on managers who are "a culture fit" but rather on effective leaders who can change company culture as needed for the betterment of customers, partners, the bottom line, and most importantly, their team members. So while "effective leadership" may not seem as exciting as servant, transformational, or strategic leadership, the ability for effective leaders to move the needle on organizational culture is clear and, moreover, critical as we morph to a "new normal" of remote and dynamic work.