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One would think that all employees, regardless of seniority, would perceive the company culture the same way.
But what if I were to tell you that leaders are more likely to say that a culture values innovation, initiative, candour and teamwork, while employees feel what is really valued is obedience, predictability, deference to authority and competition with peers?
According to a study by Joseph Grenny and David Maxfield, authors of Crucial Conversations, and co-founders and leading researchers at VitalSmarts, while only 9% of employees have a favourable opinion of their culture, managers and executives are more optimistic with 15% viewing their corporate culture favourably.
Surveying more than 1,200 employees, managers and executives, the study found that the more senior a person is in the organisation, the more positive they are of their company culture.
When presented with 13 cultural norms and asked to identify which one were most like their own culture, staff and bosses clashed on all 13 norms, with the perception chasm statistically widest the following five:
- Avoid conflict and maintain pleasant relationships — at least superficially. With importance placed on agreeing with, gaining approval of, and being liked by others. Employees were 54% more likely to say this is extremely like their culture than leaders.
- Conform, follow the rules and make a good impression. Employees were 53% more likely to say this is extremely like their culture than leaders.
- Do what you’re told and clear all decisions with superiors. Employees were 54% more likely to say this is extremely like their culture than leaders.
- Set challenging goals, establish plans to reach them, pursue them enthusiastically, achieve them with importance on excellence. Employees were 18% less likely to say this was extremely like their culture than leaders.
- Speak up immediately whenever there is a question or concern that could affect performance. Leaders were 67% more likely to say this was extremely like their culture than employees.
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“There is no way to close this gap without honest, open dialogue,” said Grenny. “Basically, people say their leaders hype one set of behaviours but reward another — that gap in perception is the starting point for conversation. If leaders are seen as sending mixed messages about what they truly believe will drive performance, they should invite employees to point out this perceived hypocrisy.
“Leaders tend to think employees won’t open up—but we’ve seen the opposite. When an executive sits down and truly listens, employees will be surprisingly honest,” Grenny added.