Is workplace culture worth the time and effort (2)

This article is about creating alignment in our workplace culture through a process we call Authenticity – which means behaving in a way that is consistent with the workplace culture we claim we want to have. 

Many organisations state that they want a certain type of culture, but then behave and allow team members to act in ways that are not consistent with that culture, and that is simply not authentic. 

Most organisations say that they want a good or even great workplace culture, but don’t address two key issues:

  • They haven’t thought about what that workplace culture looks like (which is the subject of a future article)
  • They are not prepared to do what it takes to create that culture – creating great workplace culture is not bruise free!

The price of creating an ideal workplace culture is usually change and accountability. We have to ask people to change and be accountable to behaviours that are consistent with the culture we want to create. That is how we create Authenticity.

In a previous article, we define culture as the sum of every choice the organisation makes at every level and by everyone. We are talking about micro choices, the way people greet each other in the morning, how quickly they respond to customers, how they deal with conflict – not big strategic decisions made in the boardroom.

The cycle of workplace culture. 

In reality, that comes down to what the people in the organisation do, say, think and decide – that is what creates culture. Currently, of course, those things are aligned with the culture you have now. That is how you got that culture. 

If we want to change culture, we need to change those actions. That can sound really simplistic to the extent that organisations sometimes look for, and invest in, complex answers that just don’t work. And while it is simple, it is not easy, because what we are asking people to do in realigning culture is to change the things they do, say, think and decide. We are asking people to change.

If we ask most team members, ‘would you like to work in a great workplace culture?,’ they will say, ‘of course!’ When you explain that will require change – from everyone including them – there is some hesitation. Typically, what people want is change without changing. They want a better workplace culture and they want that to occur by having everyone around them change. 

The message for leaders: if you really want to create meaningful workplace culture change, it starts by having everyone accept that they need to be part of the process.

Culture is a reinforcing cycle. The way we know how to behave in a workplace is by looking around at what is normally done in that workplace. When we look around, we see a whole ‘pool’ of choices being made – consciously and unconsciously. For example, if I have an issue with my colleague and I’m not sure how to deal with it, I look around and see what everyone else does. If I observe that the norm around here, the way people normally behave, is to go and have a respectful discussion, even though that may be uncomfortable, then that is what I am more likely to do. 

If, on the other hand, I see that the norm around here is not to say anything, but to gossip with my cliche, then that is what I am more likely to do because it’s consistent with the current culture. Either way, I had a choice – and the choice I made was influenced by the current culture AND it reinforces the current culture.

It is like swimming with or against the tide – most people will choose to swim with it because it is easy. You have to be a strong and determined swimmer to go against the current – and even then it may be too strong. As a leader, if we want to start changing workplace culture, we need to interrupt this cycle if it doesn’t support the culture we are striving to create.

We interrupt the cycle by changing the expectations in the workplace – not by sending an email or putting a notice on a board, but through actions. Actions that reinforce positive choices and disincentive poor ones (choices that are not consistent with the culture you want to create.

Going back to the earlier example, if I choose to gossip about my colleague instead of having an honest and respectful conversation, as my leader you might talk with me about that decision. Perhaps you could discuss why I made that choice and how it impacted the workplace culture, my teammates, myself, the person I was gossiping about. You could make it clear that my choice was not acceptable but also help me learn – through coaching or training – how to deal with the situation more effectively.

In this situation, the response of too many managers is to ignore the behaviour because dealing with feels uncomfortable – which it is. But the process of creating change starts by interrupting the cycle – and you can’t do that with an email or a memo.

If you want to work in a better workplace, and create a great culture for your team, find the courage to do what is right rather than what is easy. Be Authentic. 

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