An executive assistant helps with so many things within a company, but one of those roles can be as a culture agent.
Culture is something that has been more in the spotlight in the corporate world over the last few years. Different companies tend to have different views on it, but this definition from HBR is pretty good:
“Culture guides discretionary behavior and it picks up where the employee handbook leaves off. Culture tells us how to respond to an unprecedented service request. It tells us whether to risk telling our bosses about our new ideas, and whether to surface or hide problems. Employees make hundreds of decisions on their own every day, and culture is our guide. Culture tells us what to do when the CEO isn’t in the room, which is of course most of the time.”
From this definition, you can see how an executive assistant may be ideally placed to be a culture agent, especially when “the CEO isn’t in the room.”
What exactly is a culture agent?
You could look at a culture agent as someone who represents or embodies the company culture that you wish to cultivate. They’re someone who makes decisions based upon the cultural norms of your company and can perhaps help to advise others on how they might do the same.
Your company may already have a thriving culture that you’re happy with - in that case, a culture agent can help to encourage it and keep it going. Sometimes companies have issues with their culture that they’d like to change; in these situations a culture agent can also act as an agent for change, reinforcing the idea that “this is how we want things to be done around here.”
Executive assistants are often ideal for this role because they work in close proximity with senior leadership. However, as with anything to do with workplace culture, it’s important to remember that it has to come from the top for it to stick. Senior leadership should be “showing the way” as well.
Why is culture so important in a workplace?
Having a strong culture tends to be a common factor among some of the most successful businesses. They tend to form consensus at the top about what their values and cultural priorities are as a business and correlate those with company goals and the actions and behaviors required to achieve them.
A company culture provides context for everything that you do. Like that HBR definition talks about, it determines how your team members behave or make decisions when management isn’t around.
Of course, that means that the inverse is true. Companies with weak cultures, or without strong leaders showing the way, often fall into poor patterns. For example, they might see higher turnover, more customer dissatisfaction, and struggle to reach their goals.
The thing with culture is that it exists in the workplace, whether crafted intentionally or not. “How we do things around here” will be made up on the fly, or copied from what leadership does if it hasn’t been set up deliberately. This might be fine in some cases, but there are plenty of examples of companies for whom culture has been described as “poor,” “lazy,” “out of control,” and other negative attributes. Those situations are often the result of not putting time and energy into building a desirable culture.
How do we create an intentional culture?
Your company doesn’t want to become part of the case studies around poor culture. That means you need to be intentional about building the culture that you want.
How can you do that? Consider what workplace culture is really made of. It’s a lot more than offering people free snacks and designer workspaces; it’s about the operating practices and underlying attitudes of your business. Consider some of the following factors that typically shape culture:
- Your company values. You can be intentional about crafting these and considering how they will relate to overall aims of your company. It’s also a good idea to provide a description of what “living” each value might look like, so team members have something specific. Of course, senior leadership needs to live the values too! “Do as I say, not as I do” does not make for a successful company culture.
- Your organizational hierarchy. Degree of hierarchy definitely plays a role in culture. Consider traditional hierarchies, for example, where those lower down the ranks defer to those above them. This can often have the effect of siloing information and cramping communication flows, especially if there are a lot of people in between the top and bottom.
- Your orientation, for example, being more people or more task-oriented. Organizations that are more people-oriented tend to believe that putting people first will drive better results, while those that are more task-oriented believe that nailing process and procedure will drive performance.
- Your rituals and traditions. These play a big role in shaping culture, for example, how you celebrate wins or recognize good work. In some organizations, there may be subcultures created around traditions, especially if they are based upon the department or business unit.
Building an intentional culture means considering all those facets that impact workplace culture and determining what you want them to look like. You can then also look at hiring people who are a good fit with your culture and values. (For an interesting perspective on this, here’s an article that talks about letting someone go, even though they were a high performer, because they were a “cultural vampire.”)
How can we influence workplace culture?
A culture agent can work with senior leadership to be an influencer of workplace culture. There are several ways in which they can do this, for example:
- Helping to remind executives so that they are accountable to their word. Failing to follow-through on things that have been promised to staff can be quite damaging to morale and overall company culture. Even when something may not seem like a big deal to the manager, it just might be to the team. An EA can help ensure that executives follow up!
- Set an example to those around them. One of the best ways to promote “how we do things around here” is to show it. EAs can demonstrate the values in how they interact with other people, the suggestions they make, and how they go about their work.
- Make suggestions for improvements or changes that support company culture. For example, if there's a process that they notice is cumbersome and impacting service, they might find ways to improve it.
- Help to drive collaboration in the company. An EA might help to gather people around an idea or to make sure that all the relevant people are invited to be involved when an issue needs discussing.
- Communicate clearly and often. EAs are great at being that go-to person that others will trust to relay the right information and the position of the executive. Essentially, they’re your representative when needed.
- Help to reinforce company culture and values by giving praise to team members when it is due, or by passing that information onto their executive so they can give praise. “Look at this latest customer feedback: Jessica has been instrumental in driving that program.”
You can probably think of other ways that an EA in your own company may be able to help drive culture and be an agent for it. Their position tends to be ideally placed as they communicate with people from all areas of the business.
Company culture plays a key role in your overall success and ability to achieve your goals. A culture agent can play a vital role in helping to drive and reinforce company culture, so that it becomes the norm across the team.
An executive assistant is ideally placed to be a culture agent because they interact across the company. They can help to act on behalf of senior management and share their guiding values.
Do you need a great executive assistant for your business? Worxbee sources the best and works with you to ensure a good match. Talk to us about your needs today.