by Autumn Manning

Take ownership of your culture: 3 ways executives can lead by example

Aug 07, 2017

Here's how leaders can create an environment where everyone knows what they’re working toward.

When you think of companies that have great corporate culture, which ones come to mind? At the top of that list are probably companies like Google, Facebook, Whole Foods, and Netflix. But why?

These companies and their “Best Places to Work” counterparts are at the top because they’re doing something different: Their leaders are owning their culture.

Take Google, for example. For the sixth year in a row, Google has landed the top spot on Fortune’s “Best Companies to Work For” list with 97% of employees saying their workplace is great. One of the many reasons Google dominates that list is that CEO Sundar Pichai hosts weekly, company-wide meetings – broadcast live to offices around the world. In these meetings, Googlers are encouraged to ask executives about company issues in order to “maintain an open culture where everyone feels comfortable contributing ideas and sharing opinions.”

Why does this matter? Companies whose leaders are actively involved in owning their culture create an environment where everyone knows what they’re working toward. These leaders don’t push culture to HR and expect them to handle it; rather, they develop it from day one and work closely with leadership teams to ensure it’s prioritized and lived out across the business.

If you’re in a leadership role, how are you owning culture? When looking at companies across various industries, sizes and growth stages, it’s clear business leaders are either lacking ownership or overcomplicating it. Below are three common-sense steps that stand out for how leaders can own culture.

Champion culture from the C-suite

Facebook’s former manager of culture notes that “80% of your company’s culture will be defined by its core leaders.” While every aspect of culture shouldn’t fall on leadership, you are the gatekeeper for your culture and the one who will inevitably decide whether it’s going to be good or bad. If a company has a bad culture, everyone from your team to your talent to your customers can feel it. Bad culture hurts your bottom line, and it’s hard to change unless, as an executive, you become a champion for it and walk the walk. Speak about it at all-hands. Commit to living it out by addressing the right behaviors and how they lead to performance success. Most importantly, make sure you are actively owning key pieces of culture enablement and how it is being developed across your team and the business. 

Live out your core values

Every company embodies a sense of values, or collective behaviors that shape the culture. While some are by design (hint: this is good), others happen through a lack of design (hint: not good). Be clear about behaviors or values that directly facilitate employee, team, and company success. If your core values are not echoing in the back of your mind every day and tied to how you communicate to your team, you’re leaving room for interpretation and that behavior can hinder success.

Core values are better when they are put in place early, but better late than never. At my company, YouEarnedIt, we have five core values that I often revisit as it helps me be a better leader, hire better, and make decisions that are in the best interest of the company and where we’re going. More importantly, I am able to communicate these decisions and the role our values played in making them to my team, creating a cohesive environment that puts all of us on the path to success.


For your company to succeed at culture, there needs to be an open line of communication between leaders and employees. Transparency breeds trust. It’s that simple. Your team needs clarity around what’s happening with the business and how their work helps the company accomplish those goals.

Communication should never be solely top down. Encourage your employees to over-communicate by giving them opportunities to do so. One of our company’s core values is Open Book (also the title of this blog), which for myself as a leader means to be willing to listen to the feedback and opinions of others. For many leaders, being open to the opinions and feedback of others is not an easy task because you will hear the good news along with the bad news. And sometimes there’s a lot of bad news. With that being said, you have to start somewhere to create a foundation for communication. A few great options to utilize are company all-hands, weekly stands ups, and one-on-ones. By opening these meetings up for more two-way communication, your team will have more of a voice within your organization and it will make a huge impact on your culture.

Being a culture champion is synonymous with being a strong, results-focused leader. Today’s workforce wants to follow a leader who recognizes the value of culture, partners with HR and fellow leaders to prioritize it, and enables them to be a part of something bigger. Make an investment in your people by investing in your culture. The return is certainly there.