There’s a recent piece of interesting research looking into how CEO leadership style and company culture combine to predict success. The study found that performance was greater in companies where the leadership style and culture differed rather than when they were similar.
The results point to the value of seeking to create balance and complementarity instead of overemphasizing alignment (and at the extreme, redundancy).
Extending these implications further down into the organization, alongside other research that has pointed to the value of balanced approaches and originality, I wonder about the ways in which employees’ styles and culture interact to predict individual or team performance.
Do we expect workers to perform better when their own style differs from the culture, or when there is greater alignment? Is the company culture or team culture going to play a larger role, and how might they even fit together? Where is that sweet spot and is it different across levels of the organization?
Until more research is conducted, there may be many more questions than answers. Nevertheless, such questions provide an interesting starting point for contemplating strategies on the optimal degree of balance between individual style, culture, and performance.
On a practical level, one of the best techniques may be through a well-designed rewards and recognition program. Cast within the scope of the research cited above, effective rewards and recognition can help call attention to and motivate behaviors that add something different, yet complementary to the existing culture.
For instance, when a team is predominantly task-focused, recognition might be used to reinforce behaviors that are more relationship-focused. Vice versa, when a team is relationally-oriented, rewards can call attention to task-focused contributions. Rather than more of the same, leaders can create and maintain balanced portfolios of performance on their teams, which are ultimately much more adaptable to changes in the environment than those that are either predominantly of one type or the other.
These types of solutions are flexible approaches where unique behaviors that fill in gaps in the existing culture can easily be recognized and rewarded. Tying these behaviors into a set of shared values helps to ensure that the differences in expression are functional, rather than dysfunctional or oppositional.
The idea of encouraging this type of heterogeneity isn’t exactly new to management science, although it has taken on more importance as the pace of business and pressure from globalization has increased. Likewise, organizations now face an imperative to quickly pivot and respond to changes, a task that is made easier through effective rewards and recognition that encourages diverse employee styles of work.
How have you seen your own style complement the culture of your organization?
As Globoforce’s Vice President of Client Strategy and Consulting, Derek Irvine is an internationally minded management professional with over 20 years of experience helping global companies set a higher ambition for global strategic employee recognition, leading workshops, strategy meetings and industry sessions around the world. He is the co-author of "The Power of Thanks" and his articles on fostering and managing a culture of appreciation through strategic recognition have been published in Businessweek, Workspan and HR Management. Derek splits his time between Dublin and Boston. Follow Derek on Twitter at @DerekIrvine.