Culture isn't something that happens overnight: it's a result of ingrained behaviors that have been allowed to flourish within an organization. Sometimes, they are positive behaviors: collaboration, openness, honesty. Sometimes, not so much: self-protectionism, competitiveness, bullying.
We are often asked for ideas or for help in changing a less-than-ideal workplace culture. My first question - always - is: What are your values, how are they ingrained within your people practices, and how are you measuring them? While various factors contribute to shaping the culture of a workplace, it's the everyday behaviors of a company's staff - leaders included - that play a pivotal role in driving it and the actions you take - or don't take - are key.
In this blog, we will delve into the profound impact behaviors have on workplace culture and explore strategies that business leaders can employ to foster a positive and thriving environment for their employees.
The Power of Values Translated into Expected Behaviors
Values come alive when they are well-defined and ingrained into the day-to-day.
The work your teams do everyday is important, but what is equally important is that they understand HOW (behavior) they are expected to be carrying out their tasks. When individuals consistently exhibit behaviors aligned with an organization's values, it creates a sense of unity and shared purpose, strengthening the culture even more.
Linking values to expected behaviors allows companies to establish a framework for holding employees accountable not only for what they do, but how they do it. It's the old adage of what gets measured gets done: measure behavior. Integrate it into their performance evaluations and into coaching sessions. Reward great behaviors that uphold your defined values, and correct those behaviors that degrade the culture.
As an example, consider 'Transparency' as a value. What do you expect from your team in terms of transparency? Transparent with whom? When? How? Then, consider this:
We openly encourage each other to share thoughts, ideas, and concerns in meetings and in one-on-ones.
We promptly share information with each other: goals, project updates, decisions that affect the team and the company. If we can't share a specific piece of information for confidentiality reasons, we say so.
We give open and continuous feedback up, down, and laterally.
We take ownership of our own mistakes, let others know if we've done something wrong, and work to find solutions.
We practice inclusivity in decision making. Decisions are never made in a silo.
We remain accessible and available to each other.
We openly share our successes and our failures.
These are only examples and need a bit more wordsmithing, but you get the drift. Specifics that people can be shared with the team that specifies how they should be working with each other that will support the value of transparency. It can be measured, and it can be coached.
I once had a client who had an exceptionally high performing, long-term employee, but they were creating problems with other team members as a result of their behaviors at work. They interrupted others, put others ideas down, were pushy, and generally unhelpful. They wouldn't share information freely, and were often unavailable to colleagues. Staff had complained about the individual, the individual had been spoken to, but the behavior continued and it was impacting morale. We talked about values, and they type of culture the client was trying to create, and whether or not this individual's behaviors supported that goal. The answer was an obvious no, but the client struggled: the individual was such a good performer and would be difficult to replace.
So we took a look at the future of the client's company if that individual remained: either people would start to leave, or they'd stay and be miserable and quietly begin to resent leadership for not reigning in this person more. The root issue would be that their complaints fell on deaf ears, and that leadership valued that individual more than the rest of the team. The culture that the client wanted to create would not come to fruition, and in fact would likely move in the opposite direction as employees felt no one else would be called out for unacceptable behaviors in their minds. The culture would slowly just erode. It may seem like an easy decision when reading this, but for some business owners, it's not. Their teams may be small and the contributions of one individual can be greatly felt - both good and bad. A decision either way - to remove the individual or to let them stay - would have negative ramifications for the business.
The Power of Role Models
Having strong role models within an organization can significantly shape the behaviors and values exhibited by its members. Everyone looks to leadership for clues as to what is acceptable behavior, and what isn't. When leaders display behaviors aligned with the desired culture, they set the tone for others to follow. This translates to both word and deed: walk the talk.
Frequent repetition. Various channels. Integrated. Creating an effective communication plan that is multi-faceted will help expectations take root and begin to cultivate a healthy workplace culture. It starts at the hiring phase and continues throughout the employee lifecycle.
Setting clear expectations, answering questions, ensuring clarity, and fostering discussions are all requirements of leadership. When it comes to culture, reiterating expectations will help establish norms in the workplace, as will weaving expectations into hiring, performance coaching, and recognizing / rewarding individuals who uphold those behaviors.
Communicate your values - and what they look like in practice - internally and externally. Weave it into your social media posts. Talk about it in team meetings. Write blogs about it. Survey your employees to ask them how well you, and others, model the values. Add it to your onboarding for new hires. Talk about it on your careers page. Measure it and celebrate it when milestones are hit (in this instance, consider if one of your values is 'customer first'. When your CSAT score improves, and colleagues are recognizing each other for their customer first behaviors, it's time to celebrate!)
Equally as important is communicating with those who are not upholding the type of culture you're trying to create. Course correct them as soon as possible and reset expectations, remind them they are being evaluated against those values, and that behaviors are equally as important as their deliverables.
To create a great workplace culture, leaders need to proactively define and reinforce the expectations they have of their employees in terms of workplace behaviors. It may take a bit of work up front, but it will set the stage for a productive and engaged workforce.