Like other organizational characteristics, we talk a lot about workplace culture without having a clear definition of what it really is. It is something that we know it when we see it, but have a hard time identifying its length and breadth. Workplace culture is literally the environment that employee works in on a regular basis. Culture is composed of the organization’s values, beliefs, as well as individual and collective attitudes and behaviors. We all contribute to the culture of our organization through our actions and interactions. However, the strongest source of culture arises from those in leadership positions and the environment that they create.
The benefits of a strong workplace culture include:
- higher productivity;
- better integration across the organization;
- lower turnover;
- higher levels of teamwork;
- higher levels of employee engagement; and
- less workplace conflict.
Most of us have an ideal of what the best place to work would be like based on our own personality, wants, and needs. About six months ago while working with a group of employees that were concerned about the deterioration of their organization’s culture, I asked about their past and current culture. They described their past culture as being similar to a big, close family: supportive, trusting, forgiving, and close. When asked about the current culture, it was described as corporate, cold, and overly conflict intensive. More than a few employees were lamenting the loss of the feeling that their job gave them. In this example, it was interesting to note that little had been done by the organization to create the “family like” culture that employees longed for from the past. It had organically grown as the organization grew from being a few people to being more. Similarly, the most recent change was not planned, but arose from the stress the organization was experiencing from the slowing of growth, more challenges for management, and more demands being placed on the staff as resources diminished. Basically, the organization came to grips with the fact that going back was not really possible and the current state was not desire. So, the organization began the process of deciding what it wanted to be.
When working with culture, three core precepts are important to keep in mind:
- Culture has to be coordinated
- Culture is contagious
- Silos of culture are common
Culture has to be Coordinated
Most organizations invest little more than conversation in culture. However, a positive culture does not just happen. Leaders in an organization have to decide what values and behaviors are important to the future of the organization and take action to communicate, support, and rewards those desired characteristics. This investment is not short term. Research has shown that it takes years to create a desired culture and a few months to destroy it.
Culture is Contagious
Ever the most determined new hire will eventually fall in line with his or her coworkers. Culture manifests itself in how we behave and interact and over time most of us learn what is acceptable, advisable, and optimal. If a behavior is rewarded, it will be repeated. As leaders, we are constantly being observed and evaluated. Since we set the bar for what is acceptable, employees will change accordingly.
Silos of Culture are Common
In most organizations that fail to possess a strong, centralized culture, different leaders develop their own workplace cultures. These differences result in different standards of behavior, rewards and punishments, and overall values. It is common to hear employees discuss the different cultures in the same organization. This is damaging to an organization since it factionalizes the workforce, muddies the organization’s position, and creates opportunities for conflict. How often have you heard one employee say that he is glad he works for this manager since he can work from home or leave earlier instead of another manager that is very strict and “by the book” on day-to-day things?
Workplace culture is critical to your organizations effectiveness and overall success.