But what can one manager do?

Photo-quality image of a businessman in a suit in a thoughtful pose, standing on one side of a broken bridge, contemplating how to cross.During a recent podcast interview (which I’ll post when it’s released), I was asked a tough question:

What can one manager do to improve the culture of the company?

If you’re working for a company that has, let’s say, a somewhat questionable culture, where it’s not as safe as it might be to raise questions or make mistakes, it’s easy to think that you’re stuck: your options are to either accept the status quo and do the best you can, or leave.

That’s a decision every individual has to make for themselves. Is the culture so uncomfortable – are the values the company operates under so distant from your own – that you’re better off finding something new? If so, by all means do so; staying where you’re unhappy isn’t good for you, your team, your company, or your family and friends.

But if instead you choose to say – what can you do? Is there anything you, one lone front-line manager, can do to make things better?

Obviously, my answer is absolutely yes.

Recognize your influence

You may think, as a lone front-line manager, perhaps recently promoted to the role and still trying to figure out what this people-leadership thing is all about, that you don’t have a whole lot of influence over how things are done.

Think again, please.

Whether you’re fully confident in your role or not, you have influence and even some control over yourself and your team.

Choose to be a leader

Wait. What? Aren’t you already a leader, in your role managing a team of people?

Maybe. But I often see managers focusing so much on the details of Things That Need To Get Done that they forget that their role includes leading, which is much more than managing.

And as I often say …

We are all leaders

Our behavior – the things we say, how we say those things, the actions we take, and how we take them – gives others ideas and permission.

Ideas about what they might do, and permission to do the same as you are doing.

Which means, whether we intend to or not, we are all leading by example.

How do you want to show up? What ideas and permission do you want your team to take from your actions?

And once you’ve considered those things…

Define team values

Your company probably has values defined on its website and perhaps on posters on the office walls. I’m not going to get into a discussion here about whether those values are useful – that’s a different topic.

The point is, you can define the values you want your team to model. You can define how you want your team to operate. Choose what works for you, though there are two that I think are essential.

  1. Respect: team members will act with respect and courtesy, even when there are disagreements
  2. Integrity: team members will be honest and truthful with each other, with you, and with others in and outside of the company

I highly recommend convening a team meeting to set these values – and also to discuss how you’ll all hold each other accountable to walking the talk. Accountability is huge, which includes everyone’s understanding of how “walking the talk” actually shows up in day-to-day actions and words.

This is leadership in action

Is this process easy? No. Will it be quick? No.

But it’s leadership in action. It’s an opportunity for you, as a first-line manager who may have only recently stepped into that role, to begin being a true leader and a strategic thinker.

The ripple effect

Margaret Mead’s comment on the potential impact of small groups is relevant here.

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed, citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”

You know from your own experience that there are teams and departments where people enjoy working and do good work – as well, of course, as teams and departments that struggle.

What you’re doing in this effort is one step towards making your team one of those high-performing teams with engaged employees.

And that has a ripple effect within the company. People are always watching what’s going on, and they’ll see what you do – and just might take steps to follow your lead.

Want to know more about culture and how to improve it?  Contact me and we’ll set a time to talk.