Culture can be defined as the personality of an organization or department. Just like a person’s personality, the personality of an organization is a blend of nature and nurture. An unhealthy culture doesn’t happen overnight. It develops little by slowly. It’s an accumulation of bad habits, poor choices, and lack of communication.
Are you guiding the culture of your area of responsibility or leaving it up to chance? If you don’t invest time to assess the culture from time to time you could end up with an unhealthy workplace culture that impacts you, your team, and your customers.
It’s not enough to just repeat your vision, mission, and values, you have to live it.
One of the best examples of a healthy workplace culture I’ve seen was at a credit union I did a consulting and manager training project with. One of the projects included having 32 different meetings with managers across the organization. You can learn a lot just by observing meeting management practices.
It wasn’t long before I noticed something very unusual about this place. Every meeting started on time! Everyone was prompt and ready to go prior to the scheduled start time. I was beyond impressed and I had to ask the CEO how this culture of extraordinary meeting management came to be. He said they don’t talk about the importance of starting meetings on time, they just do it. That is a simple, every day example of how culture is demonstrated.
One way to stay ahead of your culture is to spend time observing. Observation is actually one of the most important activities a leader can invest their time in. That doesn’t mean sitting in the doorway of your office with a notepad tracking everyone’s movements. It simply means paying attention to what’s going on around you as you go about your business. This practice is often referred to as mindfulness. Observation will show you how the culture of your organization is being lived out on a daily basis.
Here are 3 best practices for assessing culture:
- Do commit time for observation. Management by walking around is a tried-and-true method for observing with purpose. Carve out time to look and listen for behaviors and performance that do, or do not, align with the vision, mission, and values of the organization. Meetings are a great place to practice observation. Do they start and end on time? Are people respectful when they interact and engage? Does everyone participate?
- Do look for patterns. No need to sound the alarm just because one meeting started five minutes late or there wasn’t any interaction in your last staff meeting. Look for multiple instances and repeat offenders. Three times is a good indicator that a bad habit has been established. Once you’ve identified the pattern you can plan the best way of correcting it.
- Don’t call an emergency staff meeting, or send a generic email blast, to address an individual issue. This is all too common and it doesn’t work. Why? Because everyone assumes you are talking about someone else.
What to do if the culture isn’t as you hoped?
- Communicate the vision, mission, and values. These are the foundations of a strong culture. Reiterate the vision and mission at every meeting, at all levels. I know this sounds redundant but that’s the point. Repetition leads to retention. Integrate values into one-on-one’s and performance reviews.
- Lead by example. Make sure that leaders at all levels are practicing what they preach. Nothing will so surely destroy the culture than leaders who have a separate set of rules for themselves vs. everyone else.
- Stay the course. The true test of culture comes when the rubber hits the road, not when everything is going as expected. Are you willing to start meetings on time even if everyone isn’t there? Will you share a quick observation with someone who is deviating from performance or behavior standards?
Creating a healthy culture takes commitment, persistence, and time. It’s not always easy but it’s definitely worth it. People will work hard when they know that the leaders are committed to creating a great work environment. That’s a win for everyone and in the long run makes everyone’s job easier.
Liz Uram is a trainer and consultant who works with organizations that want to equip their leaders with the tools they need to get better results, make a bigger impact, and motivate others to do their best. She is the author of four books packed full of strategies you can immediately apply, including Make the Connection.