What is your workplace culture like?
I remember one challenging workplace I worked in years ago with some very ‘interesting’ personalities. I used to think that if only those people left, then things would become a lot better.
To my surprise, when those people eventually moved on, things continued on very much the same as before. And to my horror, one of the long-term staff used to regale me with stories that indicated that the same problems were present with different personalities.
I think it has to do with workplace culture - the values, beliefs and behaviours that are dominant in that workplace, which go on to influence the behaviour of new managers and team members.
In my old workplace, there were some values and behaviours that were highly dysfunctional:
- Don't speak directly to colleagues about concerns
- Don’t show initiative – it is the manager who calls the shots
- Don’t rock the boat – you might lose your job if you speak up
Of course, these values, beliefs and behaviours were not spoken about. But they were widely understood and practised. So, how do we start turning such unhealthy workplace cultures around?
- It starts with the leadership: Some workplace cultures develop from the founder of a particular workplace whose values, good or bad, become the standard. Other times, the current leadership is setting the example for what behaviour is considered acceptable.
In large workplaces, although there are different leadership styles, there need to be some key behaviours that are shared and modeled by all in the leadership team. People also tend to look to the example of long-serving staff, so their example is also important.
When key people are positive, supportive and professional, it is so much easier to be that way yourself.
- Talk about the culture you want: Here people in leadership roles are speaking about and reinforcing the behaviour they want to see. Other times, meetings are held with staff to discuss the type of workplace they want to have.
When a consensus can be gained about the values, beliefs and behaviours that all need to practise, you are using people’s need to fit in and be approved of by others, to shape the behaviour you want to see. What is agreed is often written down as a Statement of Shared Values and Behaviours. And, of course, the more specific you can be, the better.
Here is an example of three values and corresponding behaviours:
Relationships - Supporting each other
- Contributing positively to morale
- Sorting out difficulties when they occur
Respect - Being alert to how we are speaking to others
- Valuing others’ opinions
- Making decisions together when possible
Best practice - Always looking for ways to improve
- Being open to feedback
- Embracing change
- Hold people accountable: It is essential that people are held accountable when they are not behaving consistently with what is agreed or understood. Such follow up doesn’t have to be done in a harsh way, of course. It could be more a ‘Are you OK?’ type of discussion, talking about how they were coming across, or giving them a reminder about the behaviour you need to see.
It is only after several work-it-out conversations, that you consider more firm approaches. Of course, the most important people to hold accountable are the leadership team and long-serving staff.
The good news is that it is possible, over time, to turn negative cultures around. But it depends on the example of the leadership, a clear understanding of the behaviours all need to share, and a willingness to hold yourself, and others, accountable.