Leading a positive work culture

16 Mar 2017 by Brian Slade

Ask most New Zealanders “what sort of culture does our capital city have?” or "describe our teenage drinking culture” and you’ll probably get pretty clear answers. Cafe and binge. However, ask many businesses what sort of culture they have and the answers can get a bit vague, woolly and glib.

Why is this? And why are we only now starting to be aware of the value of a healthy and positive working culture?

Usually because of a lack of appreciation of the value of workplace culture.

In an age when companies are experiencing growing competition for both employees and customers, we’re realising that retaining and attracting the best people – and ensuring they’re focused on being the best they can be – is a key competitive advantage.

Employee retention is a significant challenge facing all businesses today. As the economy continues to look up, employees, who are connected like never before with the LinkedIn and social media networks, have more opportunity to ‘shop’. If you’re a great place to work with a healthy culture, everyone can find that out pretty quickly - and vice versa.

And gaining a competitive advantage from a positive culture is born of clarity and congruity – having everybody rowing in the same direction with clarity of purpose; and in perfect synchronicity, everybody behaving consistently from the top down.

With so much to gain, no company can really afford to be vague and woolly about its culture.

Think about what the value proposition is here: when you have a positive work culture, it follows that you have a higher performing and strongly productive, engaged team. For longer.

What to do?

Recognising the value to be unlocked is key to embarking on a positive work culture journey.

Organisations need to move past the ‘vague and woolly’ gut feel assessment of their culture and systematically and objectively research the groundswell of opinion on the ‘shop floor’. The immediate value to you will be an increased sense of understanding and appreciation of real perceptions. Actively value this feedback. This, in itself, has to become part of your culture if you are to really move into a new gear.  

But be careful not to simply paper over the cracks of what your internal study finds. Authenticity is the only way to succeed in today’s environment. And don’t think of ‘culture’ as a programme, but more a way of being - your way of being. Embed and amplify your genuine positive qualities, and create systems and environments that say "It’s the way we do things around here”. Don’t simply put up a few words on some walls, put in a new kitchen and go back to business as usual. 

Culture is the sum total of the embodied behaviors, values, environments, reward systems, and rituals that make up your organisation. You can "feel” culture, through the enthusiasm that people exhibit and in a workspace itself.

We often have to say to a client “until you get this part of the organisation sorted, sure we can implement this internal fitout or leadership programme, but what has really changed?” It’s most likely going to feel like spin. We’ll only be solving part of the picture.

It’s up to the organisation to know clearly what it wants to be. Yes, we can help you discover, distill and articulate that. And we can help you identify what needs to change internally. But we can’t impose a culture from the outside. If it’s not genuine and embedded in reality, it will never be believable nor effective, to your people or your customers.

Leadership is key

Once you’ve implemented the changes collectively agreed and that make sense to your business, leaders need to lead and this is defiantly an area where the implementation of any changes needs to be strongly led.

So, look closely at yourself as potentially someone who sets the tone. Measure how strong your culture is by getting to grips with understanding how things are working or not. Be consistent. Lead the relevant changes. Simple, right?

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