The cultural architect

John Stein argues for a more collaborative and sustainable leadership approach for 21st century organisations

he most important factor to the success of any organisation on its growth journey in today’s unpredictable, complex and changing world is leadership.
Direction, influence and character have typically defined and supported the measurement of leadership behaviour in the workplace. Identifying and reaching the destination on the journey is an essential part of the mix.
Keeping everyone on track – including suppliers, partners and other stakeholders – is an important aspect of the modern-day leadership role. The ability to navigate others on a constantly changing landscape is considered by many leading experts as the core requirement of the 21st century leader.
This can only be achieved by adopting a more flexible and collaborative approach to inspiring others to buy-in to an organisation’s future plans and deliver the level of performance needed to guarantee future success.
The role of the leader in today’s world is changing and becoming increasingly demanding. This involves balancing the strategic and operational needs of the organisation on the journey as well as managing the day-to-day perceptions of leadership by others in the workplace.
Being a leader is not easy and a summary overview of employees’ perceptions taken from our winning formula growth surveys supports this.
Employees’ perceptions of the real world of work
Information about an organisation’s performance is often readily available, resulting in opinion leaders at all levels in the business. As a result, employees are more critical and challenging of leaders today than at any time in the past.
Communication and trust are two of the biggest cultural challenges facing leaders in many organisations. Rumours and negative feedback can easily contribute to a negative grapevine developing within the organisation, which ultimately undermines the leader. Employees are often sceptical about new visions and change and, as a result, are less likely to follow the leader. This is often caused as a result of previous baggage. 
To many people believing is seeing, unless a leader consistently leads by example others will not follow.
Employees often believe that they have knowledge and skill which are rarely used to benefit the organisation. They also believe that their knowledge and skill is rarely requested by the organisation (and generally exceeds that of their line manager). They feel uninvolved, unsupported and unfulfilled.
In today’s world of work, instant action and decisions are considered a necessity – leaders are often too busy and this can be difficult to achieve. Leaders’ lack of availability and time results in the perception that employees are not being led, listened to or communicated with.
Leaders at the top will either be a disappointment, promoted or removed. Employees feel they will always be asked to pick up the pieces. Commitment and loyalty to a leader will therefore be difficult to achieve. Organisations are often successful despite the best efforts of the leaders to lead – leaders are managers who can’t lead.
All of this makes depressing reading but it doesn’t need to be like this.
Strong, effective and collaborative leadership
Change is a constant in the modern-day organisation. Although the end goal, the destination may stay the same, the conditions experienced on the growth journey will be different within six months and different again within a year. 
Why? Because internal and external events will constantly alter the landscape in which the organisation operates. Each change, if not managed and communicated effectively will result in feedback similar to the world of work perceptions highlighted in our survey. 
Strong, effective and collaborative leadership is necessary to create the agile workforce needed to understand the challenges facing organisations on their journey and deliver the performance momentum required to ensure future success.
Strong leaders exist in many organisations and stand out in several respects.
  1. They have the ability to influence others and this is important on the growth journey.
  2. They are able to build up a cultural mass of followers. On the journey, this will involve recruiting other people to the cause, including suppliers, partners and other stakeholders required to build and sustain the momentum needed to succeed.
  3. They come to the fore when the organisation is required to meet the big challenges which inevitably occur at various times on the journey. These challenges require more effort from the leader, who also needs to inspire innovative solutions supported by extraordinary belief in overcoming them.
  4. They are extremely focused on what they want to achieve and how they will achieve it as a leader.
  5. They understand what it takes to be an effective leader and do not confuse the leadership role with that of being a manager. They understand that not all managers, for example, are leaders, and not all leaders are managers.
  6. They recognise the importance of identifying the leaders of the future.
  7. They also recognise the importance of collaboration and that they may at times need support and this help can be in the form of a new role within the organisation – the cultural architect – a leader without authority, an informal leader but someone who can support them in the workplace.
Without strong, effective and collaborative leadership, navigation on any organisation’s journey will be problematic, challenges will be difficult to overcome, high levels of people engagement will be impossible to achieve and overall performance will suffer.
The cultural architect supports the collaborative leadership process. Harnessing their powerful influence in the workplace improves confidence and trust in the leadership team and commitment towards the destination on the growth journey.
Leaders without authority
Cultural architects may be described as leaders without authority. They are also referred to as informal leaders, champions or advocates. They are the new 21st century leaders.
They are outstanding individuals who influence, motivate and engage others on a daily basis. Their major drive is to excel on a personal level, do a good job and ensure that the company continues to succeed. Their role is critical to the future success of the organisation. 
Cultural architects already exist and operate within the organisation. In many instances, they don’t recognise themselves as such, but on a daily basis they go beyond their job description and the expectations of their line manager and informally lead and influence other colleagues.
They operate almost as a sub-culture within the organisation. Although they often remain unknown, you will witness their contribution at meetings, forums and other company gatherings. 
Cultural architects also operate across many of the operational areas in the organisation – although they may not have official authoritative roles within the organisation – and demonstrate some of the qualities and behaviours important to strong, effective and collaborative leadership.
Leaders by example
Leading by example, the cultural architect often understands the need for change and uses this understanding to influence and lead others. S/he also understands the specific customer requirements of the business, particularly in the area of service and relationship building. They take clear positions with regards to the organisation’s strategy (they never sit on the fence), offering feedback to senior personnel. 
Cultural architects focus on what needs to be done rather than doing their best and manage their time effectively. They are successful, a doer, and someone who is personally proud of their contribution to the organisation.
Key attributes 

The cultural architect operates at a close and more emotional level with their fellow colleagues than many traditional leaders. Often they share the same habits, values, opinions, frustrations and  ambitions. They are generally viewed by their peer group as more in touch with other employees than senior people in an organisation. They are very easily able to identify and understand what motivates and demotivates others in the workplace because they spend time raising and discussing the issues amongst each other.

They are important to maintaining the culture and values of the organisation. They are often more sensitive to others’ feelings than traditional leaders. Although they do not have power or formal status, respect, trust and achievement are important to them.
Cultural architects often emerge when an organisation is faced with a major challenge, change, deadline, goal or a new vision.
The role 
The cultural architect is one of the most important roles in any ambitious, growing, changing or progressive organisation. 
They add value in their leadership without authority role when they focus and work with traditional leaders on four areas important to the success of the organisation: 
  • Engagement
  • Communication
  • Trust
  • Culture and values.
They informally act as the eyes and ears of the company, offering feedback to each other and to the senior managers on how the organisation can meet the challenges faced on the journey. 
They influence and involve other colleagues throughout the journey, offering valuable input on how the organisation can succeed. 
The cultural architect operates as the internal public relations expert within the business, offering constant and consistent communication on progress. Their words and actions influence, engage and inspire others. 
The leadership responsibilities of the cultural architect are to:
  • Gather information and offer direct feedback to managers and other leaders in the organisation
  • Act as an initial sounding board for senior managers to test new ideas and untried initiatives
  • Operate as an ‘employee temperature gauge’ on areas important to the organisation such as motivation, communication and engagement
  • Make informal but important decisions in the organisation when line managers are unavailable for contact
  • Identify issues affecting the performance of the business
  • Share knowledge across the organisation with other colleagues and teams
  • Support and lead by example the cultural behaviours and values important to the smooth running of the organisation
  • Encourage other colleagues to be cultural architects
  • Encourage others to play a part and make a contribution on the growth journey.
Improving leadership capability
The role of the cultural architect will significantly improve the overall leadership capability of the organisation as a result of their understanding of the organisation’s bigger picture and how they transfer this knowledge to other colleagues. Leadership momentum is achieved very quickly. Engagement levels in the workplace will vastly increase and this will transfer to 
overall performance. 
Organisational performance and the number of cultural architects are directly linked. In a traditional 1,000-people organisation in the past, you could expect perhaps 120 people at different levels to lead and manage the growth expectations of the business (based on a ratio of 1:7). The task of achieving high levels of engagement was virtually impossible to achieve.
Nowadays, organisations understanding and using the power of the cultural architect role have achieved high levels of people engagement. Leadership ratios of 1:4 (in this example a target figure of 250) can be quickly achieved. 
Twenty-five per cent of the people lead, manage and influence others towards delivering ‘growth’. 
In small to medium size organisations (between 50 and 250 employees), leadership levels of up to 75 per cent can be achieved, resulting in spectacular revenue, productivity, efficiency and profits for the business.
Improving leadership capability can be measured by the attitude and mindset demonstrated by others in the workplace. Winning hearts and minds transfers to the behaviours important to delivering the level of performance needed to succeed on the journey.

Nowadays, organisations understanding and using the power of the cultural architect role have achieved high levels of people engagement. Leadership ratios of 1:4 (in this example a target figure of 250) can be quickly achieved. 

Twenty-five per cent of the people lead, manage and influence others towards delivering ‘growth’. 
In small to medium size organisations (between 50 and 250 employees), leadership levels of up to 75 per cent can be achieved, resulting in spectacular revenue, productivity, efficiency and profits for the business.
Improving leadership capability can be measured by the attitude and mindset demonstrated by others in the workplace. Winning hearts and minds transfers to the behaviours important to delivering the level of performance needed to succeed on the journey.
Cultural architects improve leadership capability by improving communication, trust, decision-making and focus across all areas of  the organisation.
Identifying the cultural architect
Cultural architects can be found where many leaders least expect to find them – internally within the organisation or externally amongst their supplier, partner and stakeholder base. Every area, unit or team has a potential cultural architect waiting to be identified.
Announcing to everyone connected with the organisation the importance of the role and then inviting individuals to offer their support will create an early mass of leadership volunteers. The opportunity to make an instant difference to the organisation or to play a more active part on the journey is a powerful motivator to many people.
Typical behaviours are as follows: 
  • Prepares personal input in advance of their attendance at company sessions and meetings
  • Takes every opportunity to talk up and promote the benefits of participating on the journey
  • Develops effective relationships with other business areas and colleagues
  • Offers positive suggestions and input linked to their own and other areas of the organisation
  • Understands the organisation’s future plans
  • Demonstrates positive cultural behaviours such as openness, trust and integrity
  • Does not allow negative feedback, obstacles or setbacks to derail them from achieving their personal goals and objectives
  • Celebrates success, however small, along the journey with colleagues
  • Is open minded to new ideas and is willing to learn and personally develop throughout the journey
  • Can easily demonstrate their personal contribution to the organisation’s success.
The simple challenge facing the leaders at the top in the organisation is to identify them early enough and enlist their support on the journey. 
The next stage is to involve them in the communication, trust, decision-making and engagement process within the organisation and to instil confidence in them to harness their powerful influence amongst other colleagues. This is normally achieved by developing a leadership without authority development programme specific to the role.
Summary and benefits
The benefits of introducing and utilising the cultural architect role within the organisation are immense. 
A reduced level of direct supervision is achieved. Ownership and personal accountability levels improve in the workplace. Progress on the growth journey is accelerated. Obstacles, hurdles and challenges are more easily overcome due to the strength in numbers of the cultural architects.
The use of informal leaders throughout the business offers the traditional leaders an additional source of feedback. An informal culture of innovation is created as more ideas are generated, problems are solved and issues are tackled.
Belief in the organisation and future plans will be achieved. This will manifest itself in increased levels of loyalty and reduced levels of employee attrition. 
Cultural architects help to create a more open and positive ‘communication’ grapevine throughout the business. Quality and service is improved throughout the organisation as relationships between colleagues are improved across all areas of the organisation. Learning and knowledge-sharing becomes a cultural norm within the working environment. Change is more easily managed and supported by others. 
The leaders of the future are identified and the cultural architect in their leadership without authority role is able to help others to navigate the constantly changing landscape on the 
growth journey.
Remember the role of the leader on the journey is not only to generate more followers but to identify and help create more leaders. All leaders need the support of the cultural architect. 


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