In an organization, culture is the environment that results when its people follows a set of generally unspoken and unwritten rules about working together. It is the sum total of values, beliefs, attitudes and behaviors embraced by the organization that manifests in daily working practices as much as in decision-making and overall communication. While all employees contribute towards creating an organizational culture, executive leaders play a major and definitive role.
So, how should you contribute towards making your organization a great place in which to work?
This post discusses a few insights I have gained from my experience at Scholastic:
Culture is learned
Employees join your organization with relatively clean slates. They absorb the culture gleaned from observations, rewards and punishments.
When they made their first call to Human Resources, how were they greeted? Was the conversation courteous and official or friendly and casual? How about when they met with you for an interview – were you in a hurry or did you listen to them patiently? These observations will come together to form an initial opinion of your organization’s culture in their minds.
Also, if you recognize and reward them for, say, completing a task on time, they will be motivated to repeat this action. If you show your disapproval towards one-upmanship, they will learn to work in a team.
Culture is shaped
Age and personalities of employees play a large role in defining organizational culture. If most employees fall within the same age group, or are outgoing individuals, it is likely that they are more sociable and open towards each other. When senior management is markedly older than junior employees, the lines of respect and decorum are more clearly defined. If complaints to senior management are usually ignored, the grapevine could be overly active and create a negative, dissatisfied and suspicious culture.
Culture may be cultivated
Set up new employees with mentors who are well-versed with the business culture. Besides the official vision-mission-objective literature they read, seeing these mentors walk the talk will etch the underlying dos and don’ts in their minds. Also explain to them the sets of values that are respected and frowned upon in your set-up. It is better to communicate these points to new employees early on, before they form an incongruent image of your organizational culture in their minds.
Culture may be changed
First, a disclaimer: culture is very, very difficult to change. It is tough for people to unlearn and adapt to a whole new value system. We see the chaos and conflict this process creates during an M&A exercise.
Having said that, with commitment, persistence, patience and the right balance of reward and punishment, you can change your organizational culture. For example, if you are having trouble with employees showing up late for meetings all the time with our without plausible reasons, you could champion the cause of punctuality by starting every meeting on time – no matter what. To do this, you need to be on time always. Second, leave it to the tardy ones to catch up what they missed on their own. Make it clear that the decisions taken even in their absence will be final and binding. Most importantly, appreciate the employees who do come on time. If these subtle indicators don’t work, introduce a minor penalty for latecomers. The key lies in being committed and patient.
With some hands-on involvement, you can create a positive, flourishing organizational culture.