Culture must be more than skin deep
Company culture and cultural fit have a significant impact on our productivity, our willingness to offer ideas and our day-to-day happiness.
All organisations are living, social organisms; this is why culture is more powerful than management teams or CEOs.
Culture is the behavioural expression of how people in an organisation get results. Culture is the culmination of thousands of little decisions where behaviour is accepted, rejected or ignored; these decisions form a system of rules and boundaries in which people (us) act out our lives.
“Being a great place to work is the difference between being a good company and a great company.”
– Brian Kristofek, President and CEO, Upshot
Research tells us there are too many managers who ignore the behaviours that are causing the culture they work in to become toxic.
A new study of 40,000 employees at 125 companies says toxic workplaces are surprisingly common.
The Emtrain 2020 Culture report surveyed 40,000 employees at 125 companies throughout 2019. The results confirm the level of culture neglect.
These statistics, below, clearly show how social dynamics within any company can create real toxicity.
Consider the following stats from the report:
- 83% of employees wouldn’t report harassment if they saw it.
- 41% of employees aren’t confident that if they made a harassment complaint, their management would take it seriously.
- Only 20 % of employees think managers are aware of how their power influences workplace interactions.
- The report further found that 29% of employees surveyed–almost one in three–have left jobs due to “workplace conflict.”
For these reasons, culture has become one of the most significant problems in organisations.
It is an issue often talked about as the most significant challenge leaders face today, but one of the least acted on.
Participating in building a culture is crucial if you want to enjoy a sustainable competitive advantage and work in an environment that is a source of pride and energy for everyone.
What do you need to do?
To begin rebuilding or shaping a new culture will require courage, tenacity and a process that has been proven. The MGL recipe has been refined and simplified through hundreds and hundreds of sessions with teams of people united by the idea that they can create a better place to work.
Each time a team emerges from this process, a significant shift occurs. People talk about how listening to their colleagues share their personal values made them realise that the culture they were experiencing previously was inadequate. They describe changes in well-being, trust and connectedness. This leads to them taking responsibility for the culture of their team and proactively driving culture initiatives.
To prepare yourself for your journey to a better culture, start by building a detailed picture of the culture you desire.
Imagery is powerful; the human brain can process images up to 60,000 times faster than words. Pictures can instantly convey a mood and leave impressions much faster and much more accurately than words. Images invoke feelings and can help others to participate in understanding your ideas about culture.
As you review the images you selected, describe the feelings you want to experience, the interactions you want to have, and the ways you want people to deal with their differences as they work together. Share all of this imagery with your team and invite them to join you in creating a vision for a great place to work.
Build deep and meaningful connections
Talking about values generally makes all of us feel vulnerable. This activity lets others see who we are and what we stand for, and that can leave us open to judgement and criticism.
- What if our values are not aligned with the others?
- Could I be pushed out of the group?
Doing this exercise will teach you that 80% of people share similar core values; they may describe them differently or use alternative words. Still, when a team listens to each other, they always find common beliefs and similar expectations. The key is to have everyone listen to the speaker, to understand what is important to them, how they are similar and how they are different. Without a leader facilitating this part of the process, some people may find it difficult to appreciate the differences shared by others. It is vital to encourage everyone to ask questions about the values they hear to deepen their understanding of each other.
Remember, any unresolved conflict will fester and could corrupt the team’s culture, and in time it can impact the organisation’s culture.
“Only three things happen naturally in organisations: friction, confusion, and underperformance. Everything else requires leadership.”
– Peter Drucker
These discussions are the work needed to build a high-performance team, not rope courses, not away-days, just honest conversations about our values, feelings and reactions.
Next talk about consequences
Like great strategy, culture building is as much about what a team decides not to do, as it is about what it agrees to do. Talking through the consequences of standing for a specific set of values is an incredibly important process.
Have the team discuss their shared values and talk through what they plan to do to improve the way they work together.
What should we stop doing?
What should we start doing?
What should we continue doing?
Begin the conversation by using the stop, start, continue model. You will not resolve every aspect in a single sitting. If you did, your culture would be paper-thin. It takes years of discussion and diligence to build a truly robust and uncompromising culture.
Making conscious choices helps the team preserve what was good already, stop the behaviours that could lead to a toxic culture and choose new behaviours that will keep the team healthy.
Getting the right fit
Implement the changes and start the ongoing process of learning about the challenges of creating a living culture. Creating a robust and positive living culture takes time; it emerges out of mistakes, forgiveness, and the willingness of a team to repair and rebuild the culture over and over again.
The process of building the culture you imagined starts by observing yourself first. Begin by noticing how you fit? Keep a log of when your behaviour is aligned and when it isn’t. Use the stop, start, continue model to track which values are easy for you to live and which ones are challenged because of your old habits.
- Where do I struggle?
- Why do I struggle?
- What do I need to change to live the values?
Biting into those hard conversations
Hard conversations are not brutal feedback sessions; the term describes the personal difficulty we all have listening to feedback and examining the facts about how others experience interactions with us.
These are “hard” conversations because they carry the risk of impacting our relationships or leaving others with hurt feelings. The purpose of these conversations is to help everyone improve the way they work together, and it is, therefore, essential to remember to separate the idea of liking a person from the act of discussing values and behaviours.
Getting the right fit demands that you and your team engage in honest dialogue. The key to making this process a success is to reserve judgment.
It is important to realise that your observations, and those of the others, are clues to the actual challenges of building the culture you desire. These observations offer insights and help develop the clarity needed to guide and coach others once you begin to cascade the culture into the rest of the organisation. This kind of experience improves the level of honesty experienced within the team.
Remember these hard conversations are an exploration; it’s not about being right or wrong; it is about investigating how your values and those of the team fit together.