How Leaders Leverage Cultural Cascading

A framework that I apply working with several leaders is the Cultural Cascading one. This is a framework that brings together some components of cultural assessment and leadership in order to better determine the values and virtues you value, and how they are being cascaded down onto talent.

The key key components of Cultural Cascading are:

  1. Leadership Polarization (how you assess yourself across a set of different spectrums);
  2. Transference and Displacement (what you project onto others as a leader);
  3. Value/Virtue Clarification (desired ideals versus behavior that is actually rewarded);
  4. Cultural Automation (your positive and negative traits that are automated to new hires);
  5. Cultural Indoctrination (what new hires learn when entering – the clearest time to diagnose culture);

Let’s take a look at each of them in detail.

Leadership Polarization

The Leadership Polarization Profile is the best place to begin. It’s a an assessment that consists of evaluating where you stand on a variety of spectrums between two extremes. Are you an excessive micromanager or, on the other hand, give reports too much freedom? Are you extremely risk-averse or extremely risk-taking? Or on the other hand, are you in the middle in most spectrums, balanced but with no clear characteristics?

Transference and Displacement

After having a clear picture of your leadership style and where you stand on different spectrums, you can more easily diagnose your Transference and Displacement. This is nothing but the set of expectations and projections – and also emotions – that you are placing on the people that work for you (or that you work with). Are you protecting underperformers to the bitter end because you see them as “family”? Are you not compensation someone because you still seem them as “juniors” regardless of achievements?

Cultural Automation

The next step is to take a look at what good and bad values, as a leader. Having already determined your leadership profile and what you transfer to others, now you can already predict what behaviors they will actually replicate. An intelligent yet disorganized leader will expand to 20 intelligent yet disorganized employees, which will expand to 500 intelligent yet disorganized employees.

Every trait you have, good or bad, will be cascaded down the organization.

Value/Virtue Clarification

The next step is the clarification of values and virtues. Knowing your values as a company is a simple exercise and very popular in the startup world. But what matters is not the theoretical values you promote, but the behaviors you take – your virtues. If your company has “family” as one of the top values but people can undermine each other to skip ahead, and they’re rewarded for it, “family” might be a value, but “ruthlessness” is actually a virtue.

Determining your virtues is essential to define why your people act the way they do, what traits are actually being cascaded down versus which ones are just in theory, and whether these virtues are aligned with your values or not.

Cultural Indoctrination

The final step, the cultural indoctrination process, is crucial for two key reasons.

First, indoctrinating new hires the moment they come in on the right actions and behaviors is essential as this is when they are most open and flexible to change. What they learn on the first week, the first day of the job is what consolidates throughout the rest of their tenure.

Second, analyzing the indoctrination process reveals culture at its clearest. Is the new person motivated to collaborate as part of a team or are they left alone to thrive on their own? Your culture is never clearer than in the way it’s passed to new hires.

A Holistic Perspective of Culture

These five steps provide you with a complete, holistic view of the “cultural cascading” process: who am I, very specifically, as a leader, what traits do I project onto my people, which do they learn, and how different are these from what I espouse as a company culture?

These five key techniques allow you to fully diagnose your culture from the top of the company to the lowest, most recent wave of hires.

Conclusion: Towards a More Comprehensive View of Culture and Values

The Cultural Cascading process, originated from a clash of cultural tools from the startup, finance and executive worlds, is a flexible, comprehensive approach that allows leaders to diagnose what traits they represent and pass on to their people, and correct the desired behaviors to influence company culture in the correct way.

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