The term “corporate culture” has given way to “employee engagement” in describing the atmosphere in an organization.  It is one jargon change that I do not mind.  If you can link engagement to behavior, then it is a valuable construct.  However, organizations do have cultures and norms which affect how people act on the job.  Think about where you work.  Are people encouraged to innovate or execute processes?  Can management be questioned or are instructions supposed to be carried out?

A clear example of culture affecting behavior has gotten New Jersey Governor Chris Christie in trouble.  Part of Christie’s appeal is that he speaks his mind and projects himself as a tough guy.  People who disagree with him are publicly called “stupid” or “idiots.”  This candor is refreshing to some, but to others he is a bully.  Culturally, it shows that those who disagree with the office are lesser people.

Essentially, when Christie was running for re-election, he (or his staff) asked mayors of different political parties to endorse him.  There was no doubt that he was going to win big, but his strategy for higher office includes showing that he has support across the board.  In one town, the mayor said he would not endorse the governor, so Christie’s staff decided to inflict some retribution by messing up traffic in the city for a few days.

After all of this became public, Christie threw up his hands in astonishment, fired one of the staffers responsible (oh, and calls her “stupid”), allowed others to resign, and pleaded ignorance because he did not specifically direct them to punish the mayor.  He just cannot understand why they would do such a thing.

They did such a thing because they thought the boss would approve.

The object of management is to get things done through people.  Managers cannot give their direct reports instructions for every task, so, to be effective, leaders need to convey expectations of behavior and performance.  This occurs with a combination of clear communication and a strong culture established by the leaders.  With those in place, employees will meet leaders’ expectations without being told what to do.  This was clearly the case in Governor Christie’s organization.

Leaders need to know that their behavior serves as cues for their employees, especially if those behaviors are rewarded.  If the top person treats others with respect, employees are more likely to do so.  If the leader punishes dissent, middle managers will as well.  It is not that hard to figure out.  You would think that a guy who is smart enough to identify the idiots would know this.

For more information on employee engagement and leadership, please contact Warren at 310 670-4175 or