Leadership’s Losing Battle with the Culture Deck

Reading Time: 2 Minutes Beyond

Last night I was listening to an older friend complain about her work environment. The work itself was promising but the management was less than desirable. After listening to her for the better half of an hour, I questioned why her manager wasn’t subject to any type of leadership seminars and conferences much the way in which the employees were subject to quarterly conferences and workshops to improve their professional capacity. I walked away from the conversation much more resolute in my opinion that leaders should be cultivated and trained, and that merely securing a leadership role doesn’t qualify you as a leader. In the case of my friend, the leadership within her place of work is perhaps the only barrier to a happy and rewarding workplace; there simply were no other complaints among the quality of work, employee relations, nor the clients. The only problem lay in the leadership, which had cultivated such a starving company culture that not only were three key employees poised to resign shortly, but that the company was finding it a challenge to attract new people. What this company needs (much like many other companies out there) is a reimagined culture.

The idea of a culture deck is budding among start-ups who are brimming with the question of how to attract and secure great talent. A start-up is no different from any other business, all of which were a start-up at some point. Yet a start-up “mind” does what most other businesses avoid: they ask questions. They don’t take on a presumptive view of any business angle, including their employees. In fact, these businesses take on a more holocratic approach, asking “what can I offer” instead of “what can I be offered.” In doing so, they’re re-defining the core of what it means to create a thriving business culture.

As a Harvard Business Review post entitled “Why Executive Teams Shouldn’t Write ‘Culture Decks’” states, “Culture is a rich term, used historically to describe civilizations and people, but in the business context it’s often reduced to ‘org structure,’ ‘mission statements,’ and ‘employee incentives.’ Defining culture in this way in the workplace—mapping it to corporate goals—is much behind the reason why many culture decks feel forced.” As the article continues, the real reason most culture decks are left wanting is because they’re written by management, and as we’ve highlighted in this intro, management isn’t always in tune with the rest of the company.

Management is usually more focused with statistics and with the overarching ideas of why a business exists; they’re not in tune with the reality of their business. This is why Nanigans for example, an SaaS company for scaled performance marketing, decided it would approach it’s culture deck by having a real conversation with their employees. They covered honest questions that spanned across industry, product, culture and customer and actually used those responses are part of their culture deck presentation – a comprehensive set of slides that defined and presented their company to a greater audience. There was no filter, no assessment, but rather a mirror reflection of that candid one-on-one chat. This of course requires leaders to be willing to ask honest questions without fear judgment and criticism, be wiling to listen and tune into the responses, and then act on those responses. If leaders in non start-up companies took this approach, they would find themselves not only better-liked, but they’d also find a higher employee retention rate resulting from happier employees who feel like they have a real voice and say in their professional environment.

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