(First published on LinkedIn)
Recently I wrote about How to Do “Tone-from-the-Top” and Really Mean It and highlighted the legendary leadership of Paul O’Neill while at Alcoa.
But for most companies, it takes more than one leader – no matter how exemplary – for tone-from-the-top to actually mean anything.
In my experience working with client organizations, the “tone” quickly dissipates as you move down the organization. In one project, we asked the sponsoring executives to send a rousing email to employees impacted by the project and to explain why it is important. Then we asked the next level of management to cascade the message down through each level, until all employees receive the message from their managers. When we checked to see whether the employees got the message, we found that barely any communication took place below the executive level.
This goes to show that a true tone-from-the-top takes a lot of work, especially for companies that operate in multiple countries. It’s not merely enough for an executive to make a statement, no matter of how powerful that statement is.
The graphic below shows all the work that needs to be done to achieve true tone-from-the-top.
None of these steps is difficult, but it does takes time and resources. If a company is serious about establishing tone-from-the-top, it needs to recognize the work required and commit the time and resources to get it done right.
Otherwise, it’s just wishful thinking.