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Demystify Your Workplace Culture

‘I need you to fix my people, can you do that?’

‘Sure, but let’s start by talking about what you feel is wrong with them.’

This conversation is played out every week – usually multiple times – in our offices. A frustrated manager calls us because things just aren’t going as expected. Sometimes it is people who don’t get along – but won’t do anything to fix it. It might be teams that are dysfunctional, team members with low morale and who perform poorly, or people who don’t meet expectations no matter how many times they have been spoken to. On occasions, the problem is a manager with a knack for pissing people off, or who uses autocratic and micro-managing approaches.

Whatever the issue, there are two broad approaches we can take – and they come at the problem from opposite sides.

  1. The first option is to do what the manager is doing: focus on the people as a problem who need fixing, and the fix is always about addressing a deficit in skill or will, ability or motivation. This is often effective – but only to a point. It’s the band aid approach
  2. The second option is to begin with a question. Why does the issue occur? What is it about the working environment that makes that level of performance possible? This approach deals with the real issues – it cures the underlying issues so that band aids aren’t needed so often

If you really want a band aid, we are confident we have the biggest and best available. And we love working with managers to address problems. But, we also know that those problems never fully go away unless the root causes are addressed.

That process doesn’t need to be complicated – but it should be strategic. People’s performance is largely a response to the climate and culture they work in. For example:

  • When people don’t meet expectations, they often lack clarity
  • When people aren’t motivated, they often feel under appreciated
  • When people don’t go the extra mile, it is often because they don’t believe it will make any difference
  • When leaders use ineffective styles, it is often because of the pressure they are under or because they are not supported to develop better styles
  • When performance is mediocre, it often connects back to a lack of accountability

Sometimes the people are the problem – and they do need to be ‘fixed.’ But usually that is just one part of the solution.

I’m going to share with you a strategy to address performance issues strategically. We use a structured framework when we are working with clients, and you can apply that same framework in your organisation.

Step 1: Define your ideal workplace culture

A lot of managers and organisations are able to tell us about the things that are wrong with their workplace culture, but they usually struggle when we ask them to define their ideal. This is a critical step because it defines what you want to move towards, not just what you want to move away from. It also sets up step 3.

This overall framework is called Authenticity – which we define as aligning the things you do, say, think and decide with the culture you want to have. That starts with having at least a broad idea of what that ideal culture looks like. Take a look at this three minute animation which outlines Authenticity – it’s also a powerful tool to explain the process to your teams

Step 2: Assess your actual workplace culture

Think about the situation as it is today. Not on your best or worst days, but as a norm. There is a free tool on our website, The Authentimeter, that can help you make this assessment.

Step 3: Examine the gap between the real and the ideal

There is always a gap – but why does it exist? This is where you need to broaden your thinking. 

  • Start with the individual contributors – what are they doing or not doing that you would like to change? What deficit in skill and attitude could be causing that?
  • Of course, those people work in teams. Is the team environment conducive to people doing their best? Or does it limit the ability and motivation of individual team members – who may be frustrated by the way their colleagues behave and perform?
  • What about the leaders? Do they lead in a way that promotes engagement and accountability, that supports people to feel appreciated, empowered and inspired to do great work? Do they ensure individuals and teams have clarity of expectation and receive abundant and skilful feedback?
  • Finally, look at the organisation. Do the policies, processes and systems support the performance you would like to see? Or are they a barrier? We recently worked with an organisation whose key goals included increasing diversity in their workforce – but their policies placed major restrictions on flexible work practices

Step 4: Project plan

If you did step 3 well, you should have a list of actions that could address both the obvious issues and the underlying cause – together they can be both the band aid and the cure. The key is to prioritise – pick a few to work on first, perhaps a combination of quick wins to create momentum and strategies that will make a big difference. Don’t fall for the trap of trying to chase all the hares at once!

Let us help you

The process should now be clearer, but it can still feel overwhelming. Let us help you with a free, thirty minute consultation with one of our team to discuss how you can apply the framework in your organisation.


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