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Leadership Starts at the Top

The other day we were meeting with the head of human resources of an emerging midsized company. She told us that she had just hired a new employee for a key, non-management position. She expressed her hopes that introducing this employee into the sales team would change the way the current employees performed. As she put it, dropping this new employee into the company "fish bowl" would show the other fish how to behave. She told us that she believed when the new fish started to produce more than those already in the bowl, the others would be forced to, "pick up the pace."

We asked her a question. Who sets the culture of an organization? Is it set by a new employee or by the leaders of the organization (i.e., the owners, principals and/or managers)? You can guess her answer.

Too often, the principals of organizations believe that changing out their employees for new ones will improve the company's performance, and, too often they are disappointed. We are not suggesting that you keep employees who are unwilling or unable to perform a function in your organization. You can check our earlier articles for our thoughts on getting employees to execute. But, in our experience, new employees often learn how to behave from existing employees, managers and the company's culture. Therefore, if you are consistently disappointed in your employees' performance, perhaps you should be asking additional questions.

For instance, the next logical question may be, "What is company culture?" The best definition of company culture I have heard is, "The way we get things done." In organizations, the "way things get done" is set by the principals, and by proxy, the managers. Therefore, hoping that a new employee will have enough influence to change the culture of your organization is unrealistic.

If you, as a leader, are not satisfied with the way things are getting done in your organization, you should look at your management practices. Are you setting clear, measurable goals with your employees? Are you holding your employees accountable for reaching or exceeding the goals? Are you actively coaching your employees on a daily and weekly basis? Are you providing training for your employees so that they know how to accomplish their tasks? Are you rewarding your employees for reaching their goals?

If you cannot answer, "Yes" to these questions, you probably have some work to do. There are a lot of resources that can help you with goal setting, learning to coach correctly, providing training or setting up reward systems. Don't be afraid to ask. Remember, leadership starts at the top. It starts with you.

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