15 Ways To Keep Company Culture Intact When Key Leaders Depart
Leaders play a key role in creating, communicating and maintaining a company’s culture. The longer they’re a part of the company, the more defined their influence on the culture becomes through everything they say and do. So when a long-term senior leader leaves a company, it can be a real challenge to fill their shoes while continuing to maintain the company culture.
When the owner of a company notices its carefully crafted culture changing after the departure of one or more key leaders, it’s important that they understand what to do to keep it together. Below, 15 members of Forbes Coaches Council share their recommendations for company owners who are faced with this dilemma.
1) Develop A Strong, Clear Culture Statement
First, you must have a strong and clear culture statement. Once the statement and values are clear, then creating what “right” looks like becomes second nature to all who enter. If you and your entire team orient all who enter on “how things get done around here,” then it won’t matter when a leader shifts. The team will protect the culture. If you get lost along the way, go back and redefine. – Shelley Smith, Premier Rapport
2. Have A Team Meeting For Envisioning Values
Have a team meeting or team-building session for the purpose of envisioning for the sake of the company. It can be a good self-check and realignment on the culture and values you have within your company. – Andy Audate, AudateMedia
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3. Translate Desired Features Into Actions
Behaviors are the building blocks of culture. To preserve the culture, identify the aspects that you want to keep, then clearly translate them into tangible actions. Help leaders and employees know what to do to successfully embody the culture or “live the values.” Then, give them the tools, coaching, feedback and leadership role modeling necessary to reinforce those behaviors every day. – Jamie Lewis Smith, Pixel Leadership Group, LLC
4. Ask Employees If Anything Has Changed And What’s Lacking
Communicating—including through pulse surveys—with employees is the first step to understanding company culture. Ask them if they feel the culture has changed and, if so, what is lacking. A company may find the culture has been affected by factors leadership hadn’t even considered. Through this exercise, businesses have the perfect opportunity to enhance the culture from its previous standards. – Michael Timmes, Insperity
5. Ensure Everyone Understands The Company’s Vision, Mission And Values
Make the culture more visible and tangible. Make sure that everyone is aware of the vision, mission and values. Design activities around bringing the culture to the forefront of everyone’s consciousness and keeping it alive. – Rajeev Shroff, Cupela Consulting
6. Assess The Culture And Track Results
You can’t manage what you don’t measure, so I would (and do) work with my clients to regularly assess their culture and track the results over time against global norms. If you aren’t measuring your culture, you can’t determine whether any shift is good or bad. Culture is not some ethereal thing; it can be reliably measured and intentionally improved. – Michael Couch, Michael Couch and Associates Inc.
7. Envision Your Desired Culture
Culture is dynamic and needs to change to remain relevant with the times. I would urge a company’s owner to envision the desired culture—think through what’s currently working well and what isn’t, and then look for talented people who will help them shape and champion the desired culture. The departure of key leaders is also an opportunity to review organizational culture and gear it toward the desired future. – Rittu Sinha, The Balanced Bandwagon
8. Make Key Behaviors Clear And Support Them With Examples
Ask yourself, “What kind of behavior and values have brought us forward as a company so far? And are these behaviors and values in alignment with what we believe will bring us forward in the future, even when some key leaders depart?” If the answer to the second question is “yes,” make sure the key behaviors supporting the company culture are clear and visible, and support them with examples of do’s and don’ts. – Pernille Hippe Brun, Session
9. Ensure New Employees Fit Your Culture
Culture is not set in stone. It changes continuously. Ultimately, a culture emerges from the shared experiences of the past as well as shared values and the behavior derived from them. It is normal for employees to want to develop outside your company. Ensure that each new employee is an excellent cultural fit with the company’s values and vision to avoid a cultural shift. – Michael Thiemann, Strategy-Lab™
10. Set Core Values And Define Acceptable Behaviors
Culture equals core values plus behaviors. It’s rooted in core values. Set the core values, define the acceptable behaviors and keep living them. There are two things to do. First, ensure that you continue to socialize and operationalize the core values. Second, hire new leaders who are a true culture fit and who will continue to model and reinforce the culture you have in place (assuming you’ve got the culture you desire). – Annette Franz, CX Journey Inc.
11. Develop A Constitution With Core Leaders
Develop a constitution for the business with your core leaders. Create something of value that perhaps can be shared with a new generation of leaders. It can be based on a body of fundamental principles or established precedents that are more detailed than your core basic principles. Flesh those out and have fun with it. You can start with “we the people of”—or whatever phrasing you want—but work on it! – John M. O’Connor, Career Pro Inc.
12. Allow Creativity To Flourish
Real culture is determined at the employee level, not at the executive level, which is often stated culture. Positive cultures should be dynamic and reinforced by each employee at every level. Ensure you are doing things that allow creativity to flourish. This spills over into how employees behave and weaves cohesiveness into your brand and business. – Arthi Rabikrisson, Prerna Advisory
13. Create An Environment Of Sharing And Learning
It’s important to engage and communicate both with the leader(s) departing from the organization and the ones staying to keep the organizational culture intact despite any changes. When we create a healthy environment of sharing and learning, we can discover the root cause of someone’s departure, as well as opportunities to improve and stabilize core cultural elements, by gaining the support of the team and leadership. – Izabela Lundberg, Legacy Leaders Institute
14. Identify Champions Of The Company Culture
The way forward in situations like this is to ensure the key leaders who are departing identify new champions of company culture. These culture leaders are those who believe in the same philosophy and adhere to it. If possible, make arrangements for departing leaders to come in for the next three months and be a part of town halls to ensure continuity in thinking. – Rajat Garg, Coach-To-Transformation
15. Frame The Shift As An Opportunity
A compelling “why” can help most organizations navigate a difficult “how.” Frame the shift as an opportunity for employees to keep the best of the “old” while shaping an adaptive future amid the “new.” Create safe havens for people to discuss the pros and cons of “how things are done around here.” Define a common purpose, harness networks and stay the course—culture evolves over time. – Holly Burkett, Evaluation Works