Official Culture vs. Actual Culture
It doesn’t matter what a company promotes about its communication style, internally or externally, if the top executives have a fundamentally different personal style.
People in even the best organizations flex to adjust their way of talking to match the person(s) running the show. For all the reasons linked to personal survival in a corporate culture, employees will aim to please by attempting to communicate the way you do.
For example, if aggression is part of the executive ego, everyone in the organization will try, whether knowingly or unwittingly, to include it in their own communication style. Problems develop when the top line style is hard to emulate. This gets worse went it contradicts the official personality of the organization.
In some ways it’s equivalent to the challenges that arise if your marketing team creates promotional material that’s not consistent with your brand. You can spot that and take corrective action, but inconsistent personal communication styles are more potent since they lurk under the surface of the organization’s culture.
Here’s a very personal question. As the owner, CEO, or director of your company or organization, are you really aware of how your communication style fits what your marketing and PR groups are positing to clients? Do you really know what your sales or business development teams have to do each day if they find themselves juggling the official line about what your company represents in the marketplace against what you and other executives say publicly?
Whether you already know this is an issue or you really haven’t thought about it, what's a leader to do?
Three Questions Every CEO Should Ask
First, invite your employees to answer three questions and give them permission to provide uncompromising feedback; it's essential to find out what people actually say and do versus what they were told to or what you may think they say and do.
- How well does my communication style, as owner/CEO/director, fit the official culture?
- What specific benefits or damages have resulted from this?
- Given the choice, would you rather I change my style or the corporate culture to make them consistent with each other?
Second, go down through all the levels in the organization to look for inconsistencies or shifts in the answers to these questions. This will reveal where the boundary lies between the pleasers and the truth-tellers in your organization.
If you haven’t done this or something like it before, be prepared for a bumpy ride! In the end, though, you’ll be armed with valuable information about how your communication and style filters down and affects your business.
Which leads to the third point: What are you going to do with this?