Culture is a vague concept, like a cloud. Yet its affects are as real as rain. Culture is a combination of the beliefs, values and behaviors that happen whether or not we want them to. On a day-to-day basis, culture is what really happens behind closed doors. It’s how people authentically behave, as well as the expectations of what will be rewarded and punished. Think about your company and where there are differences between what leaders say should be done, and what is actually done.
Because culture is so ingrained and mostly unconscious, initiating major shifts in it can be a challenge. It’s a little bit like trying to hug a cloud. Simply put, you can’t control the culture of a group. You can only influence it. Here I’m going to give you some tips on how to positively influence your culture.
Rewards and Punishments
In most work settings, there is a system of punishment and reward that is formally (or informally) understood. The metrics that companies use to determine punishment and reward may be helping achieve a certain business goal, but these metrics will also have an impact on your culture—either positive or negative. Statistically speaking, I bet there’s at least one behavior rewarded at your company that also pushed some bad results.
What people are allowed to get away with is also a big factor in terms of culture. There are plenty of smaller issues at work that usually don’t receive formal punishment. Behaviors such as acting rudely during a meeting, avoiding conflict, or disrespecting coworkers or customers will affect culture if left unattended. These types of behaviors need to be addressed quickly. Don’t let it grow! It’s also important to not only tell them what not to do, but how to do it well.
The system for promotions or rewards is also a key part of company culture. If companies promote people solely because they achieve goals, ignoring whether they are team players or have leadership skills, the culture will reflect that. And the other employees will notice it too. More and more research shows that when you promote people who are poor team players, even though they get things done, the end result is more damaging than helpful to the company. The invisible damage to the culture of people acting like jerks usually ends up reducing productivity in many ways that leaders don’t notice. I bet you’ve seen that happen plenty of times.
With culture problems people usually spend most of the time attacking what they perceive as the problems making it worse. That’s helpful in extreme, obvious cases. However, one of the most powerful ways to strengthen a culture is having regular conversations with people to identify what is best about the company—and encouraging employees to have these conversations with one another as well. This primes everyone’s brains, reminding them what to do more of, and what to improve in a motivating way. A great way to start these conversations, and to involve the team in a culture shift, is with our adapted positive change questions:
- What kind of culture will help us to be more profitable and to have higher morale?
- What are the key aspects to the culture we want?
- What are we currently doing to build the foundation of that type of culture?
- What actions will make our company a better place to work if they are rewarded more?
- How can we reward these behaviors in ways that motivate all people?
To energize positive change, employees need the confidence that they can improve the culture, as well as ideas for what to do and how to do it. Start by building on the answers to the positive change questions and brainstorming ideas for implementation. You can’t just give your team ideas; they need to help come up with the ideas for a true culture shift to occur.
It’s really important to start by building on what is good. If you go straight to the gaps in the culture, it will bring everyone down. The next step is to change reward systems based on the input you get. I bet you can think of times you were included in the decision making that make you feel more ownership and motivation.
One of the biggest shifts we’re seeing in the business world today is the trend toward getting rid of annual performance reviews, or at least augmenting them with regular conversations. The theory behind this is that constant dialogue—both positive and constructive feedback in the moment—is more effective than one annual conversation reviewing the year’s performance, particularly focused on a single number, rather than all the factors involved in good performance and culture. Regular exchanges allow changes and improvements to be made instantly—not to mention the encouraging feelings and positive attitudes that result from praise. This is essentially using regular priming to direct people and influence culture.
Another great way to influence culture is to use a tip from The One Minute Manager and to “catch people doing things right”. This is a powerful priming tool catching people doing things right—and commenting in the moment—and providing feedforward on how to do things better in the future. Research shows that this is much more effective than telling people what they did wrong later.
Having confidence and feeling safe in a work environment is very important to creating and maintaining a productive culture. You need confidence and safety to initiate change successfully. Think about when how confidence and feeling safe have made a difference to you. How can you help others to increase their confidence and ability to talk openly? What can you do to prime those around you to strengthen the culture of your workplace?
I’d love to hear your feedback! Just comment below or connect with me on social media.