5 Steps to Getting and Keeping Positive Culture
Organizational culture is a combination of the nature of your business/mission, stated values and philosophies; leaders’ personal philosophies; and employee personal values. Corporate policies and leadership guidance strongly influence employee behavior. If leadership demands facts and data before product or program changes, employees are influenced to base decisions and recommendations on real information as opposed to feelings or anecdotes. If leadership worries about employee feelings and reactions, employees will begin to think about this before recommending changes.
Companies have unwritten norms for things like how efficient they expect employees to be? Whether individual results are more important than team results? Which is more important, financial results or quality results? Depending upon what’s most important, the company can create concrete mechanisms that incentivize or reward emphasis on the right performance areas. Leaders are generally good at deciding what behavior they want when they can perceive a direct connection to the bottom line.
But let’s turn our attention to a more abstract and behavior-dependent variable: how employees relate to one another. This is one area where personal values are very powerful. Absent encouragement and modeling pro-social relations by top management, leader and employee personal values and behaviors will prevail. How confident are you that, left to their own devices, employees will perfectly balance quality end results with collaboration and support for each other? Or, that they will refrain from negative behaviors toward each other when under pressure?
How do you recruit? Do you emphasize technical skills and relevant experience? Or do you also look at approach to work and relationships with peers? Do you look at cultural fit and ask for examples of how the applicant has dealt with challenging relationship situations? I typically paint a picture of a challenging, gossipy peer and ask whether the applicant has run into this. I also ask what they think is the best way to respond. Answers can help you see whether the applicant has the courage and verbal skills to resist gossip with finesse or whether their refusal to go along with gossip is rough or abusive. To me it is as important that employees be able to say no with courtesy as it is to share a company’s positive values.
Influence of negative employees
The most significant difference between companies who articulate and manage workplace culture and those who don’t, is the response to toxic employees and bullies. In companies where pro-social employee relationships are modeled and expected, bullies have a hard time getting traction. Where management is silent on employee relationships, bullies and toxic employees thrive. You might say, “Just don’t hire bullies!” Good idea, but even the best recruiters can be fooled. These crafty folks can slip through the screening, particularly if they have great verbal and manipulation skills or excellent technical credentials. Once in your work network, these folks begin to manipulate, control and intimidate others, including their supervisors.
Prevent problems through strategic approach
I have built a successful consulting practice helping companies unravel poor cultures after years of neglect. It’s difficult, painful and not for the faint of heart. Try this approach:
- Articulate the work culture you want – include specific examples of desired conduct you like, and behaviors you don’t (gossip and manipulation);
- Emphasize both results and conduct – in HR mechanisms: job descriptions and performance evaluations;
- Recruit for skills, experience, conduct AND values– ask a range of questions;
- Train employees – how to balance and resolve challenging relationship situations as they arise;
- Monitor conduct and intervene – with negative and manipulative employees.
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