The Tempo Starts at the Top: Why Executives Must Lead Strategic Employee Recognition

Recognize This! – Leaders must lead – especially in setting the tone and tenor of your organization’s culture.

Out of everything I read on a daily basis, interviews with CEOs tend to be among my favorites. Case-in-point: this recent SmartBrief interview with John Taft, CEO of RBC Wealth Management, in which he focused solely on the importance of executives leading the culture of their companies:

“Culture is everything when it comes to responsible, long-term business success. Culture is what exists before any given leader shows up, and it’s what exists after any given leader moves on. Culture is in the DNA of an organization. It is not something that a leader necessarily goes out and creates. A leader’s job is to discover, communicate and reinforce culture. If you don’t get culture right, nothing else matters.”

In fact, Mr. Taft lays the blame at the feet of failed culture for many of the problems in financial institutions today:

“I believe that the financial organizations that have gone astray have done so because they lost touch with their culture. They lost touch with their stewardship mission, purpose, values and responsibilities. Those have always been at the core of the financial services industry. What we need to do today is not so much invent or create a new culture for our industry but find our way back to the culture that should have been there all along.

“Most financial services firms have a culture that at some point, somewhere, was about serving the needs of their clients. It wasn’t just about making money. It was about helping clients achieve their objectives, promoting economic growth and performing a social good. Chances are the people at the firm came to the firm because of the chance to make a positive difference in the world. That ethic is embedded in most of the financial institutions I know. We’ve just lost touch with it in too many cases.

“Restoring the culture of financial institutions to what it ought to be is the No. 1 leadership challenge right now in the financial services industry. Regulatory reform is not enough. If we are going to keep future financial crises from happening, we have to address cultural failings at the heart of the financial services industry. Whether or not we get it right will be a case study in leadership for years to come.”

This is precisely why our number 1 tenet of strategic recognition as outlined in our book Winning with a Culture of Recognition is “the tempo starts at the top.” Without senior leadership support, guidance and demonstration of desired behaviors and actions, no employee recognition program can move beyond being a “program” to becoming the basis of your culture.

Or, as Chris Edmonds of the Ken Blanchard Cos. said in a recent SmartBlog post:

“Senior leaders must become champions of their desired culture, investing time and energy each week in proactive culture management. Responsibility for corporate culture cannot be delegated to subordinates; the responsibility falls squarely on the shoulders of senior leaders.”

Who is in charge of the culture of your organization?

Derek Irvine

About Derek Irvine

The VP of Client Strategy and Consulting at Globoforce, Derek Irvine is one of the world’s foremost experts on employee recognition and engagement, helping business leaders set a higher vision and ambition for their organizations. As a renowned speaker and co-author of "The Power of Thanks" and "Winning with a Culture of Recognition," he teaches companies how to use recognition to proactively manage company culture. Derek holds a B.Comm and Masters of Business Studies from the Smurfit Graduate Business School at University College Dublin.

10 Responses

  1. Derek – Another great post! My mantra surrounding culture has always been executive leadership commitment. As an organic matter, cultures exist either with leadership direction or without; cultures can be developed and managed, but it takes a systemic, long term approach involving all aspects of the business.

    Check out the ‘Conscious Capitalism’ movement; I think they have found the model for the 21st century. Thanks.

    JB

  2. tyler says:

    very good points. keeping up the culture in the workplace by those at the top will trickle down throughout the company and keep the goals of said company first and foremost in all workers minds and help company to stay on track with it’s culture and goals.

    • Derek Irvine Derek Irvine says:

      Exactly, Tyler. But I’m also an equal opportunist. Leadership must also encourage and support grassroots, bottom-up efforts by encouraging true peer-to-peer, everyone-to-everyone recognition across the organization.

  3. […] from an internal memo from Mr. Cook to Apple employees. When I say CEOs must lead the culture in their organizations, this is what I mean. What a powerful statement on the importance of values to Apple – leadership […]

  4. […] from an internal memo from Mr. Cook to Apple employees. When I say CEOs must lead the culture in their organizations, this is what I mean. What a powerful statement on the importance of values to Apple – […]

  5. […] from an internal memo from Mr. Cook to Apple employees. When I say CEOs must lead the culture in their organizations, this is what I mean. What a powerful statement on the importance of values to Apple – leadership […]

  6. […] your CEO very visibly sets the examples – and lives that example out every day in his or her own actions – then culture change at any […]

  7. […] The Tempo Starts at the Top “Our CEO is a big champion of the program, which has really helped our recognition program be successful. He really gets it. He knows how important recognition can be, and in fact has been one of the top 5 nominators in the program since it launched… He set the tone and really made recognition a priority for the organization.” […]

  8. […] the only way to achieve one culture across your entire organization – leadership by example from the CEO, replicated by leadership down through the ranks. Then you engage everyone from the grassroots on […]

Leave a Reply