From the Top Down: 4 Ways Leaders Can Shape a Positive Company Culture

Creating a fulfilling culture starts with you.

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By Michael O’Hara

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Most leaders desire the idyllic business culture -- one marked by happy, productive and fulfilled employees. You can hire the right people, pay a great salary and add attractive benefits and a dynamic office environment, but if your company leadership isn't purposely creating a positive company culture, you won't have one.

Like the branches of a tree, your employees' relationship with work can appear healthy, but if the leadership at the root isn't thriving, the entire system will soon fall down. Culture and engagement are the no. 1 obstacles for organizational leaders, but the solution starts at the top.

Culture comes directly from leadership, so your management team must lead by example to set the tone for your company's culture.

Related: Can't-Miss Advice: 8 Business Leaders Share How to Cultivate a Successful High-Performance Company Culture

At Leadnomics, we started by listening -- and I suggest you do the same. The fires you have to put out are not an excuse for becoming detached from your people, and you cannot obtain honest feedback through the filters and biases of direct supports. Walk around the office, eat lunch in the common area, schedule time to talk or use a tool such as 15Five. However you do it, when you listen to your employees, you'll begin to see where your culture hits and misses.

Once you've defined the culture you want to shape, put these ideas into practice to engage your entire workforce:

1. Audit your behaviors.

Your team will emulate your behavior, so consider what your work hours and everyday actions say to them. Project a positive example. Success doesn't come to those who work hardest but to those who work smartest.

Foster a healthy relationship between work and home life. Think of it as integrating, rather than balancing, the two. When you show your employees how to bring your true self to the office and weave work into your personal life, they will follow suit. In the end, work will seem less intrusive.

Related: Entrepreneur and CultureIQ Present the Top Company Cultures List

2. Share real data.

Performance against key targets affects the mood of your entire team. To feel any sort of stake in the company's future, employees must receive information regarding sales reports, operating data and long-term objectives. Employees need assurance that the company will persevere, so leaders must convey hope, show support, communicate and act with consistency.

When business is going well, team members will see how their contributions played into the larger success and feel invested. When a setback occurs, they'll appreciate your forthrightness and follow leadership's example going forward. Transparency paves the way to loyalty, positive co-worker dynamics and passion to meet shared objectives.

3. Don't overregulate or legislate behavior.

Culture does not come from companywide legislation. In fact, leading with a totalitarian mindset will only deepen the divide between you and your staff, dissolve trust and deter calculated risk-taking. One-time mistakes do, however, provide teachable moments and free market research. Creating a culture in which workers have permission to fail forward is much more productive in the long run.

Strive to promote flexibility not only in what your people are doing but also in how they work. Never micromanage. While some managers may fear employees will abuse their freedom, the National Workplace Flexibility Study showed that flexibility improves team morale and performance, and managers' initial concerns decreased by 23 percent as the companywide benefits became apparent.

4. Recognize and reward employees for their achievements.

When possible, make work quantifiable and measurable by offering perks and bonuses or simply showing sincere appreciation. People want to contribute and feel needed. Displaying your gratitude will set the tone for others to do the same for their teammates, and mutual support and motivation will become ingrained in your culture.

Trust is the most influential factor on culture, and superficial perks alone won't establish it. Only by tapping into employee perceptions, setting healthy behavioral examples, empowering your employees and recognizing their accomplishments can your vision of a more productive and satisfying work environment come to fruition.

Creating a fulfilling culture starts with you.

Related: By the Numbers: Here's What It Takes to Be a Top Company Culture (Infographic)

Michael O’Hara

Chief Operating Officer of Leadnomics

Michael O’Hara is the chief operating officer of Leadnomics, a digital marketing and technology company with an industry-leading solution and a partner network that jointly create more valuable relationships between consumers and service providers. Michael is an expert in creating and leading strong teams and managing change. His depth of knowledge comes from more than 25 years of experience as a C-level executive and consultant.

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