You feel it the moment you enter the organization. Ask employees “what’s it like around here?” and they confirm the vibe. An employee in one organization says, “I love working here. Everyone helps each other out.” At another you’re told, “You’ve got to watch your back; it’s cutthroat here. And you can’t trust the managers.”
Every organization of three or more individuals has a culture, a prevalent type of behavior. In some, it’s cooperative and collaborative. In others, it’s competitive and guarded. If your organization’s culture needs an upgrade, here’s what you need to know.
Effort spent on creating a great culture pays off
Your organization’s culture defines what acceptable manager and employee behaviors are and aren’t. As a result, culture influences manager and employee actions and you reap positive or negative results from the culture you create. A vibrant culture increases manager and employee job satisfaction, morale, retention rates and productivity. A problematic culture drains employee motivation, increases turnover and erodes productivity.
You may be surprised
Forty years of management consulting has taught me that senior managers occasionally create fiction when they describe their organization’s culture. They insist, “Everyone here loves their jobs and jumps to do what’s asked.” When I ask what they base their answers on, I learn that employees act quickly when these senior managers assign projects. In contrast, when I connect with midlevel managers or employees in those same organizations, I discover their peers respond late or not at all to their emails. And when travel to work sites, employees tell me stories about what it’s really like that would shock their senior management.
If you want to know what culture exists in your organization, regularly walk the hallways, step into cubicles and visit the outlying worksites. You need to ask questions that can’t be answered with a “yes” or “no” such as “what makes for a great work week?” or “what was roughest challenge you faced this month?”
Leaders shape the organization’s culture, and thus they need to live what they want to see in others. If leaders want an accountable, ethical culture that successfully tackles problems, they need to walk their talk by demonstrating integrity, hard work and a commitment to finding solutions rather than assessing blame.
Leaders set the tone and when they make employees aware of their vision and the organization’s future by openly and transparently communicating upcoming changes and challenges, they create buy-in. When leaders communicate guardedly, holding information close to their vests, employees fill in the gaps with assumptions.
Phony doesn’t work
When leaders don’t live the culture they claim exists, the conflict or disconnect between the supposed code of conduct and reality creates cynicism. For example, if the leaders say they value accountability, the organization’s policies need to apply to leaders and managers as well as employees. When they don’t, the published code of conduct seems a bad joke.
Act to maintain the culture
An organization’s culture thrives or stagnates. If leaders want engaged employees, they need to actively engage with their employees and understand the challenges their employees face. Employees want to have their voices heard and impact their work environment. Leaders who govern from their desks and through closed-door meetings or who only connect via once-and-done employee surveys fall short. Leaders need to open every possible communication channel, listen and actively interact with employee at all levels. In addition to soliciting feedback, leaders need to listen to and act on what they learn.
Pay attention to subcultures
In larger organizations, subcultures may exist among groups or individuals. When healthy, these subcultures enhance the larger organization. If toxic, however, a subculture’s negativity ripples out into the larger organization. Leaders can’t afford to turn a blind eye to bullying or to allow a group of gossipy employees to trash a coworker, because those acts become acceptable components of the culture. If an organization’s managers and supervisors don’t effectively work with low-performing employees, it erodes the motivation of hard-working coworkers forced to carry the load of their low-performing peers.
Finally, if you ask your employees “what’s it really like around here?” what answer do you hope they’ll give – and what actions can you take to create that culture?
© 2020, Lynne Curry
Lynne Curry is the author of “Beating the Workplace Bully” (AMACOM, 2016) and “Solutions” (both books are rated 4.8 out of 5 stars on Amazon.com). Send your questions to her at email@example.com or follow her on twitter @lynnecurry10.