If you've instated progressive personal and professional development policies at your company, and if you're proactively working toward creating a happy, healthy culture, I commend you. But if you're not actively applying these things yourself as a leader—and if your founders aren't role modelling the things your company advocates for—it will do you little good.
If you tell your people you want them to take vacation, for example, but your leadership team doesn't take regular vacations, it will make it difficult for other employees to feel safe taking time off. For this reason, Netflix's CEO, Reed Hastings, makes it a point to take six week of vacation every year.
"I take a lot of vacation and I'm hoping that certainly sets an example," he told CNBC. "It is helpful. You often do your best thinking when you're off hiking in some mountain... You get a different perspective on things."
When we talked to Jason Fried about his belief that 40 hours a week is plenty, he emphasized that part of his responsibility as a CEO and leader is to model that behaviour himself.
"In general people follow the leader, so if they see you working late at night or on weekends, no matter what you say, they’re going to think there’s a quiet expectation that they should do the same. I think you need to set the example and be really firm about that, otherwise people are going to end up sliding down that slope, and end up working too many hours or late at night."
Integrity is critical to establishing a healthy culture
The bottom line when you're trying to instate any cultural practices is to do so with integrity. If you list off a bunch of values on a poster and slap it on your wall at work, it will mean absolutely nothing if even one of those values isn't upheld.
If your company says it values transparency, but its leaders have tons of elusive meetings, fail to mention major challenges, or if employees learn more about the company from reading headlines than from internal sources, that value is just straight BS. And as soon as employees smell BS, trust diminishes, and culture takes a sharp downhill turn.
If you're going to declare something a company value or philosophy, do everything in your power to uphold it. Talk about it, and live by those values.
And if you happen to slip up, own up—as quickly as possible—so your team knows it wasn't intentional, and that you'll do whatever you can to ensure it won't happen again. Mistakes happen (even the best CEOs are still just human beings), but a cultural fuck up isn't something you can sweep under the rug.
Live your values, model your philosophies, and you'll strongly boosts the odds of them spreading throughout your culture.