Ethics Coach

Leaders: Who's Shaping Your Company's Culture?

Leaders: Who's Shaping Your Company's Culture?
Image credit: Martin Poole | Getty Images
This story appears in the June 2016 issue of Entrepreneur. Subscribe »
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I’m a woman in a male-dominated industry. When I was an employee, I could roll as one of the guys. Now I own a company, and an unpleasant bro culture has emerged here. I can’t hang with the guys (I’m the boss, after all), but I also can’t seem to influence their behavior. What do I do?

You’ve spent more time being “one of the guys” than being at the top, so here’s a helpful reminder, in case you’re feeling wistful: When you’re one of the guys, you’re fitting in -- which is the opposite of being a strong leader. As CEO, you can’t have a sense of belonging. You need to flip that on its head and create a place others want to belong to. Every leader makes mistakes, and it seems you’ve made your first big one: You hired a team and then let them dictate the company culture. Now you need to fix that.

Can an entire company’s culture be changed? Yes, but it has to be done fairly and transparently. If you haven’t formalized a company code of conduct, get started immediately so that employees stop making up their own rules. Make it clear to employees what needs to change and why. Everyone will need to know what is expected going forward.

That may all sound overwhelming, so start small: Identify three or four core values that guide how you want employees to act toward one another, and how you want your company as a whole to behave. To make those values concrete, identify specific actions that employees can take to embody those values. For those who can’t buy in, show them the door -- and use those openings to enhance diversity and talent. Once staffing issues are sorted out, continue to work with your team to build on values and evolve a culture of respect. 

This will be lonely work, so it’s time for you to tap into a support system of your own peers. Leave the staffers to go have drinks themselves. You’re no longer one of the guys -- now you’re one of the CEOs.

Edition: October 2016

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