By James Marco
So much of today’s business literature focuses on culture, ping pong tables, juice bars, and other office perks. These are the types of things that are supposed to attract and retain talent.
The fact is, every company has a “culture.” What is interesting, in many, cases is that management will often see the culture differently from line staff.
Culture is not your mission or vision statement, it’s not found in those motivational wall posters and slogans seen in many office environments. Culture is not found in some grand proclamation from the CEO. And culture certainly isn’t found at a juice bar, cappuccino machine, ping pong table, or bean bag chair.
Culture is found in the daily interactions between staff, the interactions between management and staff, and the interactions of company employees with customers and those with whom you do business. Culture can be a competitive advantage for an organization.
But how do you objectively define your current culture, and how do you change your culture if you don’t like the current work environment?
I believe that for an organization to change their culture, it needs to be done on a firm foundation. This foundation centers on the ability of managers to be leaders, and make no mistake, there is a difference between the two.
We see so many companies that take their best nurse, accountant, sales person, engineer, environmental services staffer, etc., and make them managers or supervisors. Great, you got a promotion. But what kind of preparation did you have to start leading others? Weak managers are even weaker leaders. Weak leaders cannot change a culture effectively.
Reference materials on culture abound. Whether you adhere to Deming, Juran, Crosby, Drucker, Collins , Covey, Paulson, DePree, Paulson, Peters, Blanchard, Sinek, or some combination of ideas from these and many dozens of authors on this topic, your effort starts by preparing your managers to be leaders.
Culture change does not happen at a retreat, a seminar, or a meeting. It happens over time in the daily interactions your leaders have with staff and with each other.
Announcing to your employees that you are undertaking culture change will have an initial positive effect on morale. But remember that your employees are watching … if you are not prepared to be committed and consistent in your approach, willing to make adjustments along the way, and open to feedback and ideas from staff, you efforts will ultimately fail, and morale may end up worse than when you started.
Culture change begins with establishing trust and communication. This happens day by day, hour by hour, interaction by interaction. Your leaders have to be skilled at listening to staff, really hearing what they have to say—their feedback, observations, questions and concerns.
Your leaders have to be equally skilled at teaching, guiding and mentoring staff. Simon Sinek speaks of feeling “safe” at work.
Staff will not get out of their comfort zone if they don’t feel like their manager is truly a leader and “has their back” as they experiment with new ideas, new ways of communicating and problems solving. There will also be a few staff members who will not be willing participants in a culture change effort.
Over time, these employees become toxic, and your leaders need to be prepared to deal with these employees.
I have read numerous surveys that all state essentially the same thing, two-way communication with leadership, and relationship with supervisors and peers are what drive employee satisfaction.
Salary is more often a dissatisfier, but it can be an indicator that you are being consistent in what you say about culture at your company. You will not “buy” your way to a better culture, ever.
Is culture change worth the effort? When a company has a culture that brings out the best in their employees, success of the company is almost guaranteed.
Marco is president, principal consultant at Saratoga Human Resources Solutions Inc.